I have been reading more about paper wasps today and had no idea there were so many species. When I first tried to identify mine, I was looking, mistakenly, under the Polistes genus. It was at wonderful Bugguide.net that I eventually found my little friends in the Mischocyttarus (pronounced "Mis-k-sit-ar-us") section. Mine are Mischocyttarus mexicanus cubicola. There are 2 other species, Mischocyttarus Navajo, and Mischocyttarus flavitarsis (Western Paper Wasp) which can be seen in the USA. They are tropical wasps so are confined to mainly Southern parts, but I have to say that my little colony has survived these recent Arctic temperatures very well.
The majority of paper wasps seen in the USA are Polistes genus wasps and the two are superficially very similar. The main difference is the mid section between the abdomen and the thorax (which is curiously called a petiole .. as in a leaf stem). In the Mischocyttarus wasps this section is considerably longer and thinner.
Both wasps construct the distinctive umbrella-shaped, chewed papier-mâché nests which hang by one or more stalks from man made or natural structures.
Good for the garden!!!
They are very beneficial insects to gardeners because they are natural pollinators of flowers and prey on a variety of insect pests, including caterpillars, flies, and beetle larvae. Think natural biocontrol. The adults only feed on nectar, giving their insect prey to the developing lava. Yes, they will sting but are not considered aggressive and will only do so if sorely tried. Even my nose to nose camera work didn’t upset them too much.
This is from a very nice supportive Paper Wasp article at Bug of the Month written by Louise Kulzer:
“Paper wasps have a special liking for umbelliferous plants. Having chewing mouthparts, they are not able to reach far for nectar, as bees can. Umbels have shallow nectaries, and make suitable fast food stops. Dill and fennel are especially good, but parsley, parsnip or carrot gone to seed are useful too. So do yourself a favor this fall - let some umbels flower, and be prepared for the gangling paper wasps to grace your garden.”
And there is a good piece on natural pest control from “Small Farm Permaculture and Sustainable Living” with this accompanying photo and some extra words of wisdom.
“Treat all spiders with love and care and provide rocks or logs around the garden to encourage the crawlers”
How to pose a paper wasp? ”
I have done quite a few more sketches today and have been thinking about how I want to pose this wasp for a colour study. It’s an interesting problem because the way I position it will influence how it will be perceived. I want to show the beauty of it but perhaps not the threatening side. In the bottom drawing below, the lowered head and thorax is a predatory pose, as is the front faced stare.
so I considered more of a top view which shows off the beautiful markings and disengages that baleful look.
However , my final decision was made late this morning after I had been to pay the wasps a visit. I watched a wasp land on top of the wall and turn its head to look at me. This seemed a perfect pose , looking round rather than full on. I don’t think there can be much upward movement in the head of a paper wasp because of the hard carapace of the body, but the turned head just gives the wasp a little more personality and some, not too threatening, eye contact. I like to see the eyes of things. By nature they seem curious and watchful creatures and very aware of your presence.
And I did get a couple of head studies done. I am fascinated by the eye shape.