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A life-cycle in one shot

March 17, 2016

The Common Paper Wasp (Polistes humilis) is an insect found in most parts of Australia, New Zealand (an unfortunate export from Oz) and is now nesting under my deck. The latter location is unfortunate as they aggressively defend their nest and surrounding territory and have a very painful sting.

Paper wasp DSCN8831

The nest, which has the appearance of grey paper, is made from chewed wood fibre and saliva and consists of a series of hexagonal cells. Unlike many Australian wasps, this paper wasp can and does reuse the nest with new cells added to the outside of the existing structure every season. It is into these new cells that the eggs are laid by the one or two queen wasps that service the nest.

The adult wasps are nectar feeders but the larvae feed on caterpillars and spiders which are brought to the nest by the worker females. When the larvae pupate the cell is capped until the new adult emerges.

If you look carefully at the photo you can make out in the cells the eggs and the white form of the larvae. The capped pupal cells are also clearly visible. Somewhere in the mass of wasps is the queen who is indistinguishable in appearance from the worker wasps. The entire life-cycle is right there in one photo.

Another thing I noticed when looking at the photo that I didn’t notice at the time was the wasps on the top of the nest watching me, watching them. I reckon I was millimetres away from disaster!

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