Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Stripy paper-makers

This structure was manufactured by hard-working citizens.

Each little stripe is one mouthful of woodpulp manufactured by a worker wasp.  They scrape the wood off fences, gateposts, any piece of dead wood, mix it with waspy saliva, and glue it on to the last strip of wasp-paper.

This is the wreck of one of last year's nests but it is still a miracle of insect dexterity.

Inside this shell the wasps create several shelves of hexagonal cells - a bit like the wax cells made by bees but made of paper instead.  You can see the hexagonal shapes below, though I'm afraid they're rather old and broken.

A wasp nest can be as big as a beach ball and build up to 20,00 wasps during the year, but you hardly notice them until late summer, when the queen stops laying eggs and the workers have no more work to do, building cells and catching caterpillars, flies and other bugs to feed the young wasp larvae.

This is when they have their holiday, homing in on treats like your glass of beer, your fruit bowl or your cream tea.  But as soon as the cold weather comes they all die, except for the new queens, who hibernate until the following spring.  

Then the nest building begins afresh.  The queen builds the first little nest and raises her first brood, who then take over the paper making and building work, while she concentrates on laying eggs.

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