Tag Archives: paper wasps (Polistes exclamans)

Failure to communicate

I’m quite tolerant when it comes to letting critters nest in and around my home.  Rats and mice, not so much; I mean insects.  I’ve let moths pupate in the living room because they somehow found their way inside and built their cocoon in a corner.  I’ve let various wasps nest in the garage and on the patio for many years.  Several different ant species nest around the patio, from acrobat ants to a species of tiny black ant so small that they mostly go unnoticed unless I’m on my hands and knees looking very closely.

A Male eastern cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus) perching on the sidewalk (20080609_06336)

And I’ve thrilled at the existence of a massive colony of eastern cicada-killer wasps (Sphecius speciosus) that stretches around my entire home.  These leviathans intimidate most everyone who sees them, but they’re gentle giants, docile behemoths that bring me great joy.

In fact, during my rather terrible sleepless period, I stayed up one night and built a homemade nesting box for solitary bees and wasps.  You see, last year for the first time I decided not to tear down the old mud dauber nests on the patio.  Usually I remove them to make room for the next year’s nests.  But having left them up last year, I found myself the proud guardian of an autumnal group of mason bees who discovered the old mud tubes and found them quite useful for their last generation of the year.

So in early spring this year, I discovered mason bees emerging from those old nests and immediately searching for new nest sites.  Mason bees like to nest in the same general area where they were born, so I decided to help them.  The nesting box I built has about three dozen nesting tubes in it, and they vary in size from straw diameter to perhaps the diameter of an index finger.  This has drawn in leafcutter bees, at least two species of mason wasps, at least one species of mason bee, and the requisite parisitoid cuckoo and chalcidoid wasps.

And I’ve already become a proud papa from their efforts.  Three mason wasp nests have erupted with tiny mason wasps, one mason bee nest has birthed an army of tiny mason bees, and one mason wasp nest has given rise to a cuckoo wasp.  Fun stuff!

Yet my tolerance for these species notwithstanding, I do have limits.  That is never more evident than when it comes to social bees and wasps.  Solitary bees and wasps are welcome, even if they’re communal, but social bees and wasps are not welcome.

Perhaps it’s the lack of fighting for the bathroom while growing up, the lack of shared chores, the lack of sibling rivalries, the lack of being picked on by older brothers and sisters, and/or the lack of parental favorites, but solitary stinger species have such amiable dispositions whilst their social cousins are usually downright mean.  And the best example comes from paper wasps.

A female paper wasp (a.k.a. common paper wasp or Guinea wasp; Polistes exclamans) collecting wood pulp from the patio fence (20080516_05312_n)

In the typical pulp-making stance with stinger held high, this female paper wasp (a.k.a. common paper wasp or Guinea wasp; Polistes exclamans) has been busy preparing to start her nest.  Unfortunately for her, she has insisted on building that nest on the patio.  Which I can’t allow.

The first time I found her handiwork, the little stub of paper was hanging under the fence railing in the southeast corner of the patio.  That puts it just about at chest height.  Um, nope, that’s not gonna work.

So I waited for her to leave before I knocked it down, hoping she’d get the message and move her efforts elsewhere.  Not so much.

She spent the following day pretty much absent, but then the day after that I found her building in the corner near the ceiling.  In the southwest corner of the patio.  Broom at the ready, I made short work of that building effort, but this time I took a swing while she was there as I hoped it would show her that this is not a friendly neighborhood.

Two days later she was at it again, this time under the fence railing in the middle of the west side of the patio.  I had to laugh when I found this new nest because (a) she wasn’t taking “no” for an answer, and (b) she was working her way clockwise around the outside of the patio as though just a little further away from the last incident would make all the difference.

Well, her shenanigans went on for almost two weeks, eventually landing her new wanna-be home on the outside of the patio door in the bedroom.  This was her seventh attempt and it brought her about three-quarters of the way around the patio from where she started.  I swung the door open to step outside and found myself—quite literally—face to face with her.  She was building at eye height on a door that swings inward when opened.  That’s a really bad idea.

I made sure to hit her with the broom for that one, and despite our failure to communicate for such a long time before then, getting smacked down seems to have driven the message home.  She didn’t come back after that.

Now, as they did last year, I’m more than happy to let social bees and wasps nest in the tree outside my patio.  This puts us at a safe distance where they’re not bothered by me and I’m not threatened by them.  But as she eventually learned, we don’t allow nesting on the patio or inside—not even inside the garage.

If she and her ilk ever get better personalities, maybe I’ll rethink that rule.

Don’t make me be unkind

The friendly fly had me so enraptured and entertained that I scarcely paid attention to my surroundings.  After all, I was on my own patio.

I leaned against the fence while snapping pictures of the fly as it scampered about the latticework and frames devouring whatever biological matter it could find.

Looking for a slightly better view, I stepped sideways and turned a bit.

Movement seen from the corner of my eye caught my attention and spun me around.

A female a paper wasp (Polistes exclamans) gathering pulp from the top of my patio fence (20080516_05312)

Atop the fence right where I had been leaning was a paper wasp (Polistes exclamans) bundling up another roll of pulp to add to her nest.

We had been so close…

Generally speaking, I like wasps.  Dirt daubers and mud daubers don’t bother me.  Cuckoo wasps and yellow jackets fascinate me.  Mason wasps and velvet ants beguile me.  And my favorite, the largest cicada-killer wasp imaginable, surrounds me each summer and keeps me enamored and full of joy.

But this kind of wasp?  Not so much.

As Wayne and I discussed in the comments here, paper wasps are highly unpredictable and illogically aggressive when there’s no need for it.

I remember as a young boy standing in the back yard holding my infant nephew on a hot summer day.  The grass freshly mowed proffered up its beautiful, memory-inducing scent.

Warm air blew against me like that from an oven, yet I loved it, loved the moment, loved the designs it drew in my mind that would stay with me forever.

Then a brief tickle caused me to look down.

On my right leg was a paper wasp.  This exact species, in fact.

I didn’t move.

Its stinger bobbed up and down against my skin as it crawled about.

Then it went in.

With no incitement to justify it, she stung me with a mean-spirited assault before flitting off into the sky.  That graciously happened when I was quite young, and that means it was before my allergy to wasp and ant stings had developed.

Nevertheless, I remember the experience like it was yesterday for it happened more than once.

It’s for that reason alone that I don’t trust paper wasps as a whole (other similar species have proven themselves equally and unnecessarily vicious).

So as I captured that image of her gathering up wood to turn into paper, I quietly warned her that I wouldn’t hesitate to be unkind if she or her cousins chose to nest on my patio.  Several decimated cellular structures already litter the ceiling and fence where they have tried—and failed—to colonize my home.

I don’t want to be unkind.  I don’t want to kill.  But more importantly, I don’t want paper wasps invading my territory.  The threat from them is quite real, and I don’t just mean their aggressive personalities and tendency to sting first and not ask questions later.

The point is simple: That old adage of “Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you” applies to all other wasp species I have encountered, but it doesn’t apply to paper wasps.  With dour personalities and malicious tendencies, they’re as unfriendly as you can get.