So, it is (ahem, was) Macro Monday. Now, we all know that I am the Queen of procrastinators, so this may well not get posted until Thursday, or perhaps I will have it done for next Monday, and then you won’t know just how long I procrastinated for, will you? Oh yes, I just told you. Anyhoo, I have long been avoiding Macro Mondays because I know how useless I am at getting something done on time if there really isn’t a deadline. You see, with Macro Monday, I should have this done by Monday, but let’s be honest, does anyone really care if it doesn’t get done until Tuesday, or Wednesday or a week next Thursday? Is the world going to end? Is my head going to explode? Am I going to lose my job?
Nope. So, here is the post, on Wednesday.This little beauty is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. I chose it as my first Macro Whateverday mainly because I am astounded every time I look at this photo at just how good a photo it is. Now, just to clarify, I am not tooting my own photographic skills here. What astounds me is the fact that this shot was taken the very first time I tried out my new Nikon 105mm macro lens. This lens is just fantastic – it is the bee’s, (or should I say wasp’s) knees and I love it!
Now, I can’t post a photo such as this one, without giving you a little bit of edumacational knowledge, can I? So, if you just like pretty pictures, now is the time to quit reading this.
Still here? Excellent!
When I took this photo, I was unaware of a couple of facts. The first was the identity of this magnificent beast. I had assumed that it was a wasp of the yellow jacket (Vespula) variety that is very common around these parts. However, since I am a most astute (and anal) entomologist, I decided that I should check its identity before announcing it to the world and, when I checked, I found out that what I have here is very definitely a European paper wasp – the orange antennae are a dead giveaway. These wasps were first introduced into North America in 1978 near Boston, Massachusetts and only made it to British Columbia in 2003.
The other thing that I noticed, which I didn’t at the time, was the fact that this particular wasp is happily munching on some poor, never-to-be-beautiful, caterpillar. The adult wasps do not actually eat caterpillars or other soft bodied insects. Their proboscis is designed to suck up nectar, fruit juice and other sugary liquids. The insects that they catch are for their developing larvae. They chew the protein rich food up and then feed it to their offspring. The larvae then do something very surprising – at least I think that it will surprise most parents – they actually give the parents something back in return for their food. They secrete droplets of a sugar-rich fluid that the adults will then consume.
So, I have learnt a few other interesting things about this little hymenopteran. The name itself, Polistes dominula, tells us something about this particular wasp. It means female ruler, or lady mistress and, as with most social hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants), the female is definitely in charge. Unlike the most well known social insects, the honey bees, and many other social ants and wasps, however, there is no one clear cut Queen. Rather, there is a hierarchical system of dominance, with an alpha female that controls the other females of the colony, directs the activity of the colony, lays most of the eggs and does little of the work. The alpha queen is not a permanent fixture and other, beta females, may usurp her position. So the queen wasp in this nest differs in her behaviour rather than her physical appearance. Males are only produced when the queen wants to get a little bit of action and once she has acquired some sperm, the males’ job is done and they will die along with the rest of the colony as summer draws to an end. Only the mated queens will survive the winter, ready to start a new colony the following spring.
Here is another very interesting little tidbit (hmmmm, my spell checker wanted to change that to titbit, but I don’t think I really want a bit of tit, so I shall leave it as tidbit) while googling around the internet. These wasps can be used to sniff out drugs or anything else that you might want to find, such as dead bodies, bomb making chemicals, the partner to that sock that you know you saw last Tuesday, but hasn't been seen since. Wasps don’t have noses, obviously, but they can smell using their incredibly sensitive antennae, which can pick out individual scents at very low concentrations. What is even more amazing is the fact that you can train a wasp to recognise a scent in just five to ten minutes. Wow, it would take your average dog, well, an average dog might never learn, but even specially selected dogs can take over ten months to train to become a proficient sniffer dog. The Wasp Hounds have many advantages over dogs – they can be carried around in a can, they don’t eat you out of house and home or poo all over your lovely lawn, they won’t try to hump your leg or eat your bacon sandwich. But, let’s face it, what would you rather have? A can of wasps that buzzes around a lot when they smell your unwashed smalls or a cute and cuddly dog that hangs on your every word and will be your best friend forever?
So there you have it, the European paper wasp. I know that most people are not overly fond of these diminutive little marvels of nature, but a least think twice before you hit out with the last week's copy of the Telegraph or Times. These particular wasps are not overly aggressive and they are very good natural predators of many of the pests of your beloved vegetable patch. And if you don’t look twice, you may end up squashing an industrious bee or a totally harmless hoverfly.
Just look at this cute and fuzzy little guy, a beeutiful little bee.
A hoverfly - notice it only has one pair of wings and while it likes to pretend that it is horribly dangerous, it wouldn't hurt a fly (well, the larvae might, since they are voracious predators of any small, soft bodied insect, but the adult is a vegetarian).