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Biology, Sustainability, Uncategorized

What’s cool about the nest in my yard

Several years ago, while I was living in my previous home, I had a wasp crawl up my pants on Halloween (October 31, which by the way is pretty cold where I live), while I was standing at the sink washing dishes. This didn’t end well for me (they figured I had been stung around 10 times in the space of a few inches) or the wasp, which ended up dead. It also made me less appreciative of these insects which really do have some cool features.

A paper nest of a type of hornet or yellow jacket hangs under the branch of a tree
A nest that isn’t a wasp nest (read on). Also, sorry the photo is slightly blurry, I was reluctant to get closer

This summer we’ve noticed a pretty significant wasp nest in our yard. It’s away from the spaces we use so it’s not much of a conflict but it’s hard to forget about the discomfort from that Halloween. So what are the cool things about wasps that could convince me to leave the nest where it is until winter.

  • So the first thing was the most surprising to me. What we call wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets are all part of the same genus (this is just one step above species). And the nest that I have in my yard is either a yellow jacket or a bald-faced hornet nest, not a wasp nest. I know this because paper wasps don’t build the outer covering around the nest but yellow jackets and bald-faced hornets do.
  • Paper wasps, bald-faced hornets, and yellow jackets are social insects. This means that they live in colonies and have division of labour where different wasps have different tasks in the colony.
  • They make the paper by chewing up wood fibre and mixing it with their saliva. The queen, as the only one to survive the winter, actually starts this process and builds the first pieces of the nest until she can lay eggs. These eggs will hatch and become the first workers which relegates the queen to a year of laying eggs.
  • The size of their home changes with the size of the colony. That means they actually add to the nest as the colony grows over the summer.
  • Unlike honey bees, all of the hornets, wasps, and yellow-jackets can sting multiple times (which I got first hand experience with back on that Halloween).

Okay, these are some pretty cool features. My goal is to leave the nest alone and just avoid that space (which I have the privilege to do) for this year, but we’ll have to see what happens when they become more aggressive in the fall.

For reference I used Bugs of Alberta by John Acorn and Ian Sheldon. A Lone Pine Field Guide.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.

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