A Busy Paper Wasp

Today’s photos show a Paper wasp busy gathering material for its nest. paper waspThe Paper wasp (Polistes spp) collects fibers from old boards, branches, and other sources; pulling up the pieces with its jaws. Afterward, it chews these fibers, mixing them with saliva to form a small pellet of papier-mâchê-like pulp. paper waspThe wasp then flies back to the nest site, where it spreads the pellet out to form a paper-thin layer. Shuttling back and forth, gathering material and returning to apply it, the wasp builds the foundation and a few shallow cells. paper waspI read some interesting facts about Paper wasps from this source.

By July and August, Paper wasp nests are . . . well, a beehive of activity.  Workers busily shuttle back and forth, some delivering chewed-up prey to larvae, while others work to expand the nest.On hot days, some workers fan the nest with their wings, and sometimes even carry water from puddles and pools and sprinkle it on the cell walls to keep the colony cool.

At its peak, a mature colony of paper wasps, with hundreds or thousands of individuals working together, driven to cooperation by eons of evolved instinct, seems like one solitary creature—a pulsating paper organism with a single purpose, and a hundred thousand legs.

But by late summer, for reasons not entirely understood, the society begins to deteriorate. More and more pupae emerge as males or fertile females rather than as sterile female workers. The reproductive wasps take little part in caring for the colony, and gradually the remaining workers lose interest in the larvae and abandon them, or sometimes even feed on them. The queen, exhausted, dies.

Eventually, all the males and fertile females leave the nest to mate. The workers remain but, left with little strength, perish one by one. The males, too, die after mating. In the end, only the reproductive females, each already carrying the live sperm that will produce next season’s colonies, survive to hibernate and perpetuate the cycle.

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