Posted by: Memorizing Nature | September 5, 2012

Thoughts About Wasps

Wasps are insect machines, flaunting their warning colours like caution tape. I note them surrounding a patch of flowers in a road ditch, taking long sips of nectar. Thankfully, they are distracted by the bouquet, a ready banquet of concentrated sugar, so I make myself believe there is little risk of being stung. Wasps, of course, are bugs with bad reputations. They ruin picnics, but worse, certain solitary types use a dagger on their behinds (the ovipositor) to dig into live caterpillars and install their progeny’s eggs within. It’s a nasty but convenient means to ensure wasp larvae wake up to a fresh meal. Such malevolent activity actually drove Charles Darwin to question the faith.

Photo by Elaine Medline

Vilified, yes, but there is a positive side to the order known as Hymenoptera. For farmers, an ability to decimate crop-chomping caterpillars represents a certain bio-controlling charm. True, wasps don’t spin sweet honey, but the social varieties have learned to build nests by pulping paper from weathered wood using their own spit. Anatomically speaking, it’s the waistlines of wasps that are so fascinating: cinched tight, the creatures appear like size-zero runway-showoffs about to break in two.

Photo by Elaine Medline

The flowers on which the wasps now feed are called pearly everlastings (Anaphalis), a drought-tolerant plant taking advantage of a drought-plagued summer. With silvery soft leaves and ornamental white bracts, the spicy-smelling blooms are known to dry nicely, although I wouldn’t dare pick them until the wasps have had their fill. Somehow, stealing a wasp’s food source does not seem wise. While lacking in appeal, these flying stingers demand deference.

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Responses

  1. Always enjoy reading your posts! What a treat.

  2. I am seeing and appreciating wasps in a whole new light after this read. Thanks for making me pause in a day of work to think about nature and its wonders.

  3. Wasps are still not my favourite but as usual enjoyed your writing!

  4. just marvelous…….

  5. look how close you got! love it – the shot. not necessarily the insect…

  6. Nice shots.

  7. I love wasps, and they really have a bad rap. It is easy to confuse the wasps and the hornets; hornets have a MUCH worse temper, and some of the wasps are very mellow indeed. Notably, around here, the red wasps who make paper nests are very non-aggressive. My very favorite wasps are the ichneumon wasps, which not only deposit their eggs inside borer larvae, but drill through the wood that is being attacked by the borers to use their ovipositors. Very cool species indeed… Not only do wasps frequently dine on caterpillars, but they also eat aphid and scale insects, which makes them a big friend to the organic gardener.

    Once when I was walking to my car after work many years ago, a nice big red wasp flew by me. I noticed that she was having a tough time of it, the usual level flight was not evident; she was dipping and diving. A closer look revealed that she was carrying a big fat caterpillar, and as I watched her she stopped on a nearby branch and proceeded to consume her prey. Of course, I didn’t have a camera with me.

    Lovely post. Thank you.

  8. These photos are amazing!


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