I found this wasp nest while out hunting critters with my camera one night. I didn’t intend on doing a photo journal of the birth of a baby wasp. I took pictures of the nest and went back to it a few times simply because of the architecture of the nest (and the cool looking wasps!) After I had taken a few pictures I noticed what looked like eggs in the nest. I researched wasps to find what type of wasps these were and learn more about them. These are Paper Wasps. The name "paper wasps" typically refers to members of the Vespid (a large, nearly 5,000 species, diverse, cosmopolitan family of wasps) subfamily of the Polistinae (eusocial wasps). Eusocial being a term for the highest level of a social organization in a hierarchical classification.
They make the nests by gathering fibers from dead wood and plant stems, which they mix with their saliva and chew to a paper-mâché like material. They are sometimes called Umbrella Wasps due to the distinctive design of their nests.
The nests consists of a single upside-down layer of “brood cells” (compartments for the young).
These wasps have no worker caste. Each female is potentially a queen. One female wasp becomes dominant, assumes the role of queen and is cared for by others. The subordinate wasps search for food and care for the larvae.
Colonies are founded by one female who dominates the colony and lays most of the eggs. After emerging from hibernation during early summer, the young queen searches for a nesting site. The queen constructs the nest, lays the eggs and forages. The sperm that was stored and kept dormant with her during the winter is now used to fertilize the eggs. The storage of sperm inside the female queen allows her to lay a considerable amount of fertilized eggs without her needing to mate with male wasp. For this reason, a single queen is capable of building an entire colony from only herself.
The queen initially raises the first several sets of wasp eggs until enough sterile female workers exist to maintain the offspring without her assistance. She then stops foraging, becomes the queen and rules by dominating her offspring of workers. If the queen dies, the most aggressive worker takes over. This worker will lay eggs but since workers have not mated, she can only lay unfertilized eggs, which develop into males. (I know....that’s just begging for a male joke!)
In late summer or fall, the founding queen, workers and males all die. The newly mated queens hibernate. The following spring they emerge and begin the cycle anew.
Even after noticing what looked like the eggs in the nest, I still wasn’t planning on any type of photo journal on them. Yet, because they intrigued me, I continued to often take pictures. It was when I had uploaded a photo I had taken and saw the eggs had turned to larvae (which looked to me like little aliens!!) is when I decided to try and capture the process through photos. An interesting (albeit gross) fact about the larvae is that the workers are fed by them. The workers feed the larvae “meatballs” of chewed caterpillars and other insects. In exchange for the meat, the larvae regurgitates a sugary liquid eaten by the workers. (Yummy!)
Regretfully the only thing I missed was the baby wasp emerging from his “cocoon”. I missed the “birth” by probably minutes. The picture of the baby wasp head down in the cell, is right after it emerged from the cell and is head down in the cell, eating ( you can see in other pictures a honey like substance in which the newly born wasps feed on) and letting its wings develop.
The baby wasp needing to feed and let it’s wings develop, I found out by a (tragic) accident. Besides the one nest I was keeping a photo journal on, there were two other nests under the overhang of my garage. One nest became uninhabited. I watched for several days and no queen or workers were ever around. So, deciding to study it, I took it in my house. I kept it laying in a bowl in my kitchen. About a week later I woke up to find a wasp taking care of the nest! Apparently, or so I assume, the queen had possibly been away from the nest at the times I was checking it. The other nests constantly had workers around it. I think this nest, which was smaller, just hadn’t colonized yet. Somehow that wasp found the nest in my house and was taking care of the larvae. I set the wasp, bowl and all out on my back steps figuring it would be okay there since it was covered from any rain. The queen and eventually a worker continued to care for the nest. One day I went to check it and found the nest out of the bowl, down the steps at the landing on the sidewalk. Either a great wind blew it or an animal got to it. Again, it was abandoned. Again, I took it inside. A couple morning later I woke to find a baby wasp slowly crawling across the nest. I had hatched a baby!! Unfortunately I didn’t know enough to realize it needed to feed AND hang upside down to let its wings develop. It died. (And I felt horrible!)
The most amazing part of all of this, was watching the larvae “weave” itself in the cell. After several weeks of the larvae stage, I was taking pictures and noticed the larvae moving quite a bit. I took picture after picture and while looking through the lens, realized what it was doing. It was spinning itself into a silken cocoon. It is there, I realized that it pupates and then transforms into a wasp.
A few weeks before finding the newly hatched wasp, I noticed one of the silken cocoon tops was removed. Unfortunately, and I don’t know why the cocoon was missing before it developed, but the larvae had pupated and not developed into a wasp. Unfortunate for the wasp but fortunate for me to be able to see what the pupae looked like.
A few days later, I found that the baby wasp newly emerged. From there I left it alone, as far as taking pictures, except to watch it occasionally. Baby wasps apparently grow rapidly as within days I could never differentiate it from the other wasps on the nest. Eventually the nest was completely empty. It is probably time now for the queens to start hibernating.
Most people fear wasps and may not want to look at these pictures. I found the wasps to be very aware of me when I was photographing them, usually keeping a good eye on me. But unless threatened or believing that their nests are in danger, the paper wasps do not just attack unprovoked. As I said, they watched me, but apparently realized I was not a threat and was not there to harm them as they never once came after me. Thankfully. I hope that even if you have no interest in wasps, which would be the majority of people, you will still take a look at the journal. I hope you will at least find it a bit fascinating.
Very interesting. I liked your written journal as well.
Fantastic-what a great job of following this rather mysterious process.
The guestbook is empty.
© Susan Doran Photography