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More about Paper Wasps, Gangling Friends of the Gardener

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Friday 15 January 2010

More about Paper Wasps, Gangling Friends of the Gardener

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 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.

 sketch 2

so I considered more of a top view which shows off the beautiful markings and disengages that baleful look.

 pencil 4 sm

Here I turned the head to give a bit more movement and a nicer line and I was almost sure I was going to paint this one .. so made a few more detailed sketches.

sketch 5 sm

sketch 6sm

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.

wasps finalsm

And I did get a couple of head studies done. I am fascinated by the eye shape.

pencil headsm

wasps hds

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Blogger Helen said...

Wonderful, Val, as always. Your illustrations are lovely in themselves, but it's also fascinating to read as you go through the process of creation, giving your whys and wherefores. I'm laissez faire with most bugs, but I'll look even more kindly on these fellow from now on.

15 January 2010 at 22:00  
Blogger Unknown said...

They really DO have a rather baleful expression, don't they? Belies their beneficial and rather beneficient way of being. Fascinating creatures, though.

15 January 2010 at 23:39  
Blogger Dan said...

It looks like a little alien in the last coloured picture. Their bodies are almost in two parts aren't they - hardly joined up at all!
Brilliant sketches - looking forward to seeing the end result.
Best wishes

16 January 2010 at 09:25  
Blogger Gabrielle said...

Again, I am admiring your sketches and the watercolor studies of the wasp's eyes and head are wonderful. I love that a wasp's petiole is called a petiole! It is a very unique structure.

I did get your info about the watercolor notebook - thanks so much!

17 January 2010 at 03:36  
Blogger sharp green pencil said...

Thankyou all. Until I wrote this I really did'nt know they were so helpful in the garden.
Helen, I have been less than laissez faire, but I understand a lot more about them now
Jodi, they definitely do and they fix you with that stare too.
Dan , it's no wonder that insects are used as models for predatory aliens is it..Its a shame really because it does give them a bad image.
Thanks Gabrielle,yes who would have thought a wasp waist was a petiole.. nice chat up line for the guys .. "hey, great petiole!"

17 January 2010 at 17:31  

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