Wasps in our shed and wasp-human interactions

 by Sandy Garland

Polistes dominula nest

This nest is about 10 cm in diameter and you can see sealed cells containing eggs as well as adult wasps tending larvae.

As always by this time of year, wasps have discovered what a nice warm place our shed is and what a great place to build a nest.

As usual, at least half a dozen open “umbrella” nests have been started by paper wasps (Polistes dominula). Nervous about these at first, we now ignore them and the wasps ignore us.

This year, a new kind of nest appeared for the first time – a small closed round hanging nest (see photo below). As the nests are peculiar to each species, we knew this was a different kind of wasp. Christine kindly identified them from photos as aerial yellowjackets (Dolichovespula arenaria).

I am very cautious around yellowjackets because I accidentally disturbed a ground nest once and was stung all over my hands before I realized what was happening and ran away. However the aerial species seems as docile as the Polistes wasps. 

Aerial yellowjacket nest

This little 7-cm-diameter “paper” ball is the first and only aerial wasp nest in our shed.

BUT, this differs for different people. I happened to meet two colleagues just leaving the FWG and stopped to chat. They came to look at the nests and the aerial yellowjackets immediately flew out of their nest and around in circles in a very agitated way. One of my friends also has this effect on bald-faced hornets (another kind of yellowjacket, which builds a much larger round paper nest on tree branches). In contrast, the other friend once spent many hours sitting directly under a bald-faced hornet nest studying their behaviour. During all that time, the wasps paid no attention to her. 

Wasps were a topic on the Naturelistserv this week too. One contributor mentioned how grateful they were for wasps when they used to milk cows out in the field: “That gave us lots of time to observe insects around the cow, and we really appreciated the work of the White-face Hornet. These  predators took flies right off the surface of the cow – or on the wing. Face flies, deer flies, stable flies, everything up to the size of the monster black horsefly. In that situation the hornets were very welcome companions.”

One last thing: as I was resizing these photos for uploading, I noticed that the Polistes wasps have different yellow markings on their faces (see photos below). I wonder what this means. A quick Google search turned up this National Geographic article – how interesting!

Polistes dominula faces

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4 thoughts on “Wasps in our shed and wasp-human interactions

  1. Very interesting article on wasp face recognition – thanks. We usually have the ground wasps move in to one area of our “lawn”, but not this year. Right now there are large black ones feeding on the mountain mint and echinops. They sure are aggressive toward each other, but don’t both with me, thank goodness.

    • Thanks, Fred. I keep forgetting that one’s not native. P. fuscatus is native, right? We used to have both, but because dominula makes nests in the shed, we notice it more.

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