Posts Tagged: Polistes dominula
Your mother laid an egg, you hatched into a caterpillar, and you're eating as much as you can before you spin into a chrysalis and then emerge, as a butterfly, ready to start the life cycle over again.
You are not aware of the European paper wasp, its long legs dangling, moving through the leaves and eating the newly laid eggs around you. The wasp lurks in the deep, dark shadows as you finish one bite and reach for another.
Then you see the predator coming after you.
It does not end well for you. You have become protein for the wasp to feed its young.
For several weeks now, the European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) have wreaked havoc on the Gulf Frit population on our Passiflora. Sometimes they pair up in twos, sometimes in threes and fours, and once a horde of five descended
They follow the fluttering butterflies as they touch down on a leaf to lay an egg. Then they eat the eggs, kill the caterpillars, and tear apart the chrysalids.
European paper wasps are relatively new invaders from Europe; they were first spotted in the United States in 1981 in Massachusetts. They are now colonizing the entire country, taking over the native wasps' territory.
There's good news and then there's bad news. If you like having European paper wasps around to prey on the larvae of hornworms, cabbageworms and tent caterpillars, then you may consider them beneficial insects. But if you're trying to rear a few butterflies, such as the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), then they're Public Enemy No. 1.
Studies show that they can also be cunning.
According to an article out of Michigan State University: "A Cornell University researcher has found that certain female wasps, without nests of their own, 'sit and wait' for an opportunity to adopt an orphaned nest or hijack a nest from another queen. These sit-and-wait female wasps prefer to adopt the most mature nests, probably because these nests will produce workers the soonest, and colonies with workers are very likely to survive. Once a queen adopts a nest she will eat the former queen's eggs and young larvae and replace them with her own eggs. The older larvae and pupae, which belonged to the former queen, are allowed to complete development and may eventually help rear the adopting female's offspring. Ferocious hunters, paper wasps feast on caterpillars."
"The nests are usually founded by a single Queen or Foundress, who starts her nest in May having hibernated as a mated queen throughout the winter often in the company of all the other mated females from their parental nest."
See photos of European paper wasps on BugGuide.net.
Meanwhile, we figure that only about 10 percent of the Gulf Frit eggs will ever make it into butterflies--no thanks to assorted predators.
But a few will make it, and what spectacular butterflies they will be!
A European paper wasp on the hunt. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A European paper wasp attacks a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The European paper wasp tears apart the caterpillar, food for its young. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Be careful when you're harvesting an artichoke.
You might find a European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) hunting for a little protein, such as ants, flies and tiny bees to carry back to its nest.
Entomologist Whitney Cranshaw of Colorado State University writes in one of his fact sheets that "European paper wasps rear their young on live insects. They do not produce nuisance problems around outdoor dining that characterize scavenging species, such as the western yellowjacket. European paper wasps will sometimes feed on sweet materials, including honeydew produced by aphids. On rare occasions, they also may feed and damage ripe fruit."
Don't consider the European paper wasp a pest. "European paper wasps have become one of the most important natural controls of many kinds of yard and garden insects," Cranshaw writes. "Most commonly they feed on caterpillars, including the larvae of hornworms, cabbageworms, and tent caterpillars. Sawfly larvae are also commonly taken prey."
As its name implies, it's a native of Europe. Says Cranshaw: 'The European paper wasp is the common paper wasp of Europe. It was first found in North America in the 1970s in the Boston area. Since then it has spread rapidly to much of the northern half of the United States and British Columbia."
Volunteers at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, University of California, Davis, recently spotted a paper wasp nest on a lush growth of grey musk sage.
As the paper wasps tended and guarded their nest, honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees gathered nectar.
The bees: vegetarians. The wasps: carnivores.
European paper wasp hunting for prey on an artichoke. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
European paper wasps guarding a nest. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
On the grounds of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at the University of California, Davis, something as simple as a freshly watered potted plant will do.
Without water to ventilate and cool the hive, the wax inside an overheated hive on a hot day will melt and the brood will die.
However, if you see a honey bee collecting water, you might also see a European paper wasp (Polistes dominula).
These wasps need water to mix with their saliva and wood fibers to build their nests (right). They also bring back water for the offspring and to cool their nests.
Honey bees stand on the lip of the container or on rocks or sediment. They don't like getting their feet wet. Not so with wasps.
European Paper Wasp