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Wasps, Pacific Northwest

Sphecidae Wasps
Sphecidae Wasp, Photo By Bud Logan

The wasp is a medium sized flying insect that can be found all around the world. The wasp is known for its black and yellow markings, not unlike some bees. They are found in all parts of the world, on every continent with only the polar regions being exempt.  There are about 75,000  species worldwide.

They have a powerful sting and one wasp can sting you several times. Some people react badly to these stings and some with allergies can find a wasp string to be fatal.

Like many other insect species, they are a social creature and as many as 10,000 can inhabit just one nest. The queen is the only breeding female and she builds the nest from a papery substance that is made up of chewed wood and plants.

Wasps are omnivorous animals and therefore eat a mixture of plants and other animals. As with bees, they prefer sweeter plants and primarily eats nectar, fruits, and honey. They also eat insects and even large caterpillars.

Western Yellow Jacket Wasps Nest
Western Yellow Jacket Wasp Nest, Photo By Bud Logan

Despite their bright colors to deter predators, they are eaten by a number of different animals around the world including birds, amphibians, reptiles and various species of mammal.

The queen lays her eggs inside the nest which hatch in a number of days. When the larvae hatch they are cared for by the other wasps in the nest and begin to hunt for food to bring back to the nest. They are known to travel nearly half a kilometer away from the nest in search of food.

In the spring, wasps generally feed on plant nectar but in the fall, there is a change and they begin to hunt meat. Try to have a fall picnic with cold fried chicken and you will see what l mean.

Bald Faced Hornet
Bald Faced Hornet, Photo By Bud Logan
Bald-faced hornets build large nests and defend them boldly, these hornets are a member of the wasp family. Although we call them hornets they actually are not a hornet but one of the many types of yellow jackets found in the pacific northwest.

These hornets are valuable to us because they kill many pests like flies, caterpillars, and spiders. But when they build their nests close to us, we tend to get very aggressive towards them.

The Bald Faced Hornet is different from other yellow jackets because of their white and black color as opposed to a yellow and black pattern of most hornets. The most notable feature of this wasp is the white marked head. They also have three white stripes on the end of their body.

Their nests are made up of one queen and many female workers. In the early spring, mated queens emerge from over winter sites, such as stumps, logs, and under loose bark.

Once she finds a suitable location, she begins construction of a paper nest, lays eggs, and collects food for the young. After the first generation of wasps reaches adulthood, they take over the job of building the nest, foraging for food, water, and care for the hive.

The nests often hang in trees where they go unnoticed until the leaves have dropped in the fall. Nests can also be built on eves of buildings, on windows, in attics or on other artificial structures.  Nests are made of layers of hexagonal combs, similar in shape to those of honeybee nests and covered in a mottled gray paper envelope. The raw materials for the paper are from vegetable fibers, such as rotten or weathered wood, dead plants, or even man-made materials such as cardboard and newspaper. The fibers are chewed and mixed with saliva to make a pulp which is then formed into place.

Paper Wasp
Paper Wasp, Photo By Bud Logan
In North America, there are over 22 species of paper wasps. Paper wasps belong to the genus Polistes There are over 200 species of these wasps worldwide. They can measure up to 3.4 cm in length. Their bodies are usually dark brown in color, with black wings and yellow markings.

These insects are called paper wasps due to the construction material used in building their nests. Paper wasp nests are made from plant material mixed with saliva and it is quite similar to paper.

Their nests include numerous compartments within which wasps lay their eggs and rear their young. The nests typically do not have an outer shell with the cells of the nest visible. It resembles an umbrella and this is the reason they are sometimes called umbrella wasps. These nests are frequently found in sheltered areas, such as the eaves of houses.

Paper wasps feed on nectar and pollen, although they also hunt for insects such as caterpillars with which to nourish the hives young.

Paper wasps are considered beneficial because they assist in pollination by feeding on nectar, and they control pest insect populations by feeding them to their larvae.

Western Yellow Jacket Wasp, Photo By Bud Logan
Western Yellow Jacket Wasp, Photo By Bud Logan
Yellow Jacket wasps can generate fear in people when they are seen hovering around a garden or an outdoor activity. This is particularly true of people who have previously experienced a sting. Outdoor picnics are usually visited by yellow jackets because of their attraction to the various foods there. Stings often occur when people or animals disturb wasps while they are hunting for food or protecting the nest.

Yellow Jacket wasps live in nests. Problems usually occur when the wasp or its nest is disturbed.  A hollow stinger is located at the rear of the yellow jacket’s body. They use this to inject venom. These stings can be very painful. They can also be very dangerous to people who have an allergy to the stings and unlike the bee, a yellow jacket can sting you more than once. They can also damage fruit when they create holes by eating the flesh.

Just before winter, the queen wasp will mate and then find a suitable place to overwinter. She is the only one of the hive to do this, all the other wasps die. When spring arrives, the queen will emerge and begin feeding and searches for a nest site to begin her new hive. Sometimes nests can be found in the ground, other times it is under an eve or in a woodpile and sometimes in the branches of trees. Once a location is found, she begins construction of the nest. The nest is made with a paper-like material gathered from decaying wood and fibers mixed with saliva.

The queen lays her eggs and protects them until the larvae emerge. The larvae are fed until they pupate. Adults emerge from the pupal cases approximately three weeks later. Sterile female workers, the first adults to emerge, take over most of the duties of the queen. As a hive becomes larger, the sole responsibility of the queen is to reproduce. Thus, the hive can become very large by late summer. It is during this time that the overwintering queens are produced.

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