Wasp Week Day 7: Great Golden Digger Wasp

Sunday, October 28th, 2007

Great Golden Digger Wasp, Sphex ichneumoneus
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2007-08-18

Let’s finish wasp week with the Great Golden Digger Wasp, one of the larger and more impressive local NYC wasps (though sadly not one of my more impressive photographs. I am looking into improving my camera equipment.) This is actually a very widespread wasp across North America, and is commonly seen in gardens and parks.

The Great Golden Digger is a solitary (non-social) wasp that lays its eggs in burrows in the earth. It’s not very aggressive, but like most wasps will sting if you try to handle it. Adults feed on nectar but prey on other insects to provide food for their young, especially grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets. Thus like many other wasps they’re quite beneficial to gardeners and farmers, and should be left alone when encountered. Don’t bother them and they won’t bother you.

Wasp Week Day 6: Northern Paper Wasp

Saturday, October 27th, 2007

Wasp on leaf
Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus
Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, 2007-09-23

Much less aggressive and problematic than the invasive European cousins from Day 4. Nonetheless getting too close to a nest would be an incredibly stupid thing to do. Like most social wasps they will defend their nests if disturbed. Otherwise they leave humans well enough alone.

Wasp Week Day 5: Bald Faced Hornet

Friday, October 26th, 2007

Black and white wasp
Bald-faced Hornet, Dolichovespula maculata
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2007-08-18

Not really a hornet at all, this species is more closely related to yellowjackets. Like yellowjackets, they are omnivorous and both collect pollen and eat insects, even other wasps.

Although they have a reasonably distinctive appearance in the field, bald-faced hornets are most easily recognized by the large, paper nests they construct in trees. Sometimes these are easier to find when the leaves fall off the trees, but this one has been visible in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens for months now.

Wasp Week Day 4: European Paper Wasp

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

Black and yellow wasp with yellow antennae
European paper-wasp, Polistes dominulus

Zebra Mussels, Kudzu, Cane Toads, and European Starlings may get more press; but invasive, exotic species are crowding out native insects too. According to Wikipedia, the European Paper Wasp was first noticed in New Jersey in 1968; but the real damage seems to have been done by an infestation starting in Massachusetts in the late 1970s. It has since spread up and down the East Coast. Exactly how much damage it’s doing to native wasp species is an open question. However, on a recent trip to Jamaica Bay Wildlife refuge it was the only wasp I found, and I saw several colonies set up inside bird feeders. This can’t be good.

Pay special attention to the yellow antennae. This is the easiest way to distinguish it from native species such as the Eastern Yellowjacket.

Wasp Week Day 3: Pipe Organ Mud Dauber

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Mud wasp nests outside door
Pipe Organ Mud Dauber, Trypoxylon politum
Brooklyn Botanic Garden, 2007-

Mud Daubers are more recognized by their nests than the wasps themselves. Above we have the nest of the aptly named “Pipe Organ” Mud Dauber. The adults are plain black and relatively non-descript for a wasp. As usually goes along with such non-descriptness, the Pipe Organ Mud Dauber is relatively harmless compared to other wasps such as yellowjackets. They avoid humans, and won’t sting unless seriously provoked (e.g. by catching one in your hand). They will build nests on human habitations. (I found this one outside the men’s room at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.) However aside from the aesthetic issues of having mud pipes on your walls, there’s little reason to remove them.

Wasp Week Day 2: Potter Wasp

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2007

Black and white wasp
Eumenes Fraternus
Fort Tilden, Queens, 2007-09-23

Today’s wasp is a member of the Potter Wasp family, which are named after the pot-like mud nests they construct. There are actually several species of Potter Wasps that don’t have individual English common names, probably because they don’t really bother most people and don’t stand out like yellowjackets. Still, these are decent sized wasps (1.5 to 2 cm from head to tail) that are often seen visiting flowers in gardens. As both a pollinator and a caterpillar eater, this wasp is highly beneficial to gardeners.