Wasp Week: Day 0

I am declaring this to be Wasp Week here on Mokka mit Schlag. I’ll be presenting a new photograph each day of some of my favorite local New York wasps, like this Blue-black Spider Wasp from Hook Mountain. Wasps and bees are much maligned and feared, and consequently I don’t think we pay nearly enough attention to them. However, they’re usually quite harmless as long as you don’t get too close to one or step in a hive. I’ve taken some risks sticking my camera way too close to some of these individuals, so I wouldn’t be surprised if one stung me, but so far the worst that’s happened is that the wasp has flown off to the next flower. (Still, I am thinking it may be time to purchase a camera with a longer lens if I’m going to keep doing this. :-) )

Blue Black Spider Wasp; species not yet determined

Precisely because they’re dangerous (though not really to people) wasps are some of the more colorful members of the animal kingdom. Striking color patterns like a yellowjacket’s warn off predators. Butterflies operate under the same principle: the showier the butterfly is the worse it tastes. Want a tasty treat? Look for the small brown creatures that fade into the background. If chipmunks were bright yellow, there wouldn’t be one left outside a hawk’s belly.

Eastern Cicada Killer

Like birds and butterflies, once I started actually looking at and looking for wasps, I realized there were a lot more of them, and a lot more different kinds of them, than I ever realized. Worldwide, about 75,000 species of wasps are known, with thousands more being identified each year. In North America alone, there may be 10,000 or more different species of wasps. I’m not sure how many there are in the New York area, but it could well range into the hundreds when you consider all the tiny ones that are almost never noticed. Some of them like the Cicada Killer above and the various yellowjackets are pretty hard to miss. However others range from small to almost microscopic, and can easily be mistaken for a fly, a gnat, or missed completely if you aren’t paying careful attention.

Small black crossocerus wasp on yellow flower

Some wasps have very powerful and painful stings. Others have relatively painless pin pricks, if indeed they can be convinced to sting a person at all. (The very scary looking Cicada Killer above is incredibly docile around humans.) The fact is, wasps simply don’t care about or pay much attention to people, one way or the other. As long as you don’t step on one or throw rocks at a nest, they’re happy to ignore you.

Evolutionarily speaking, wasps appear to be some of the older insects around. Bees and ants are believed to have evolved from wasps that began building nests near each other for protection (at least according to David Attenborough). Some wasps have become social insects themselves and build large colonial nests, while others remain solitary throughout most of their lives.

Bald-faced Hornet Nest, Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

Many wasps are carnivorous, attacking other insects. Others are pollen eaters and pollinators, like bees. Some of the smaller wasps you’ll see here I first noticed while hanging out in flower gardens waiting for butterflies. A few wasps, especially invasives like the Sirex woodwasp, are noticeable pests; but most have little-to-no effect on human activity aside from the occasional nest set up in the eaves of a house. Some actively assist farmers by eliminating caterpillars and other crop-eating insects.

Like a lot of insects, wasps are primarily creatures of the Spring through early Fall. Most colonies and individuals die out in the winter, at least here in the temperate zone. They only leave eggs, larvae, or a queen behind to start the cycle over again in the new year. Wasps will be disappearing from our gardens (and garages, tool sheds, barns, and other places we’d rather not see them) soon; but they’ll be back next year. As the leaves fall off in the coming weeks, start scanning the bare trees for wasp nests. You may be surrpised just how many wasps have been nesting around you without ever being noticed or causing any trouble.

3 Responses to “Wasp Week: Day 0”

  1. cubiclegrrl Says:

    I just wanted to say a big “Thank you” for this. My husband and I keep two hives of honeybees (one in our suburban backyard), and overcoming the neighbors’ prejudices is a constant battle. Granted, I’m not too fond of yellowjackets–particularly when we’ve had inordinate numbers of them this past year. But some of the wasps we see are truly gorgeous creatures. It’s nice to know that we have a little company in our appreciation for these fascinating creatures, so thanks again!

  2. Paul Debanne Says:

    I live it Ottawa, Canada, and thanks to your pictures, I finally understand what I have been finding in my attic – blue-black spider wasps. I mostly find them dead on the wood floor, in front of the window. I have no idea where they are coming from, and would love to see them gone. Any ideas?

  3. wanyin Says:

    Thanks, I saw one of the blue black spider wasps near my house. My search to find out what it was lead me to your site. I’m in Australia so they really must be a successful creature.

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