paper wasps reuse their nests
Thursday, May 30 2013
Today I mostly handled last-minute fixes on those educational games I've been working on since seemingly the beginning of time. Despite the absence of caffeine in my body, I was feeling motivated and competent and I was enjoying the work. It's for days like today that I am in this line of work, even if (in this particular case) the pay is turning out to be absolute crap. But what else would I have been doing with my time? Engaging in endless instant messenger chats? Trolling right wing Facebook pages? Watching clips of religious people demonstrating how mainstream institutionalized (and institutionalizable) madness has become? Playing Grand Theft Auto?
I made two interesting observations of the insect world today. The first came this morning, when I heard a lone Periodic Cicada making the "Weeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrroh! Weeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrroh!" call of Magicicada septendecim. It's been 17 years since I last saw the cicadas at Big Fun (near Scottsville, Virginia), and evidently both Hurley, New York and Big Fun lie within the territory occupied by Cicada Brood II. (Staunton, Virginia lies in the territory of Brood V, so I remember their emergence in the Spring of 1982, though I was in San Diego when they reappeared in 1999.) Supposedly the soil temperature at a depth of 10 inches has to reach 64 degrees before the cicadas emerge, so the one I heard this morning had probably been living in soil on a south-facing slope, possibly near a house foundation (or some other place where the soil would warm up quickly). But, unlike some individual cicadas who get the season count wrong and emerge in the wrong year, he (and it's definitely a he) won't be lonely for long.
The other interesting observation I made today came after I was drawn to the greenhouse by an electronic beeping sound. Somehow the "invisible fence" wire loop that triggers the doggy shock collars had been broken somewhere along its hundreds of feet of length, and the beeping was the alarm to tell me this. While I was unplugging the base station that activates the fence, I noted that a nest that had been built last year by yellow-and-black-striped paper wasps had been reoccupied. And while last year the nest had taken months to develop more than two or three occupants, suddenly now it had six. I'd always thought (and I certainly have read) that paper wasps do not reuse their nests from one year to the next. But now I've seen it with my own eyes: at least on this one occasion, they do.
I've noted this before, but it bears repeating: paper wasps are among the most docile insects one can hope to encounter. Even when being crushed, the sting they inflict is generally a mild one intended just to make the crushing stop. I've found that I can paint and do other household tasks within inches of their nests without provoking any sort of belligerence. Indeed, even when provoked, paper wasps do not immediately attack. Instead, they make warning gestures consisting of wing flicks and body bobs. When I see that, I know I cannot go any closer. Unless I absolutely must do something precisely where a paper wasp nest is, I leave it alone and let the wasps develop their colony in peace. Hornets, on the other hand (the stout little guys who build Death-Star-shaped nests) are much less docile and normally should not be approached any closer than about ten feet.
That paper wasps reuse their nests in spite of what humans think is, for me, a hopeful sign. It's nice to know nature is less wasteful than we thought, and that, when possible, it too can stand on the shoulders of giants.
The recycled wasp nest with its second year of occupants. (Click to enlarge.)
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