More about Paper Wasps, Gangling Friends of the Gardener

I have been reading more about paper wasps today and had no idea there were so many species.

When I first tried to identify mine, I was looking, mistakenly, under the Polistes genus.

It was at wonderful that I eventually found my little friends in the Mischocyttarus (pronounced “Mis-k-sit-ar-us”) section.
Mine are Mischocyttarus mexicanus cubicola.

There are 2 other species, Mischocyttarus Navajo, and Mischocyttarus flavitarsis (Western Paper Wasp) which can be seen in the USA. They are tropical wasps so are confined to mainly Southern parts, but I have to say that my little colony has survived these recent Arctic temperatures very well.

The majority of paper wasps seen in the USA are Polistes genus wasps and the two are superficially very similar. The main difference is the mid section between the abdomen and the thorax (which is curiously called a petiole .. as in a leaf stem).
In the Mischocyttarus wasps this section is considerably longer and thinner. Both wasps construct the distinctive umbrella-shaped, chewed papier-mâché nests which hang by one or more stalks from man made or natural structures.

Good for the garden!!!

They are very beneficial insects to gardeners because they are natural pollinators of flowers and prey on a variety of insect pests, including caterpillars, flies, and beetle larvae. Think natural biocontrol.
The  adults only feed on nectar, giving their insect prey to the developing lava.
Yes, they will sting but are not considered aggressive and will only do so if sorely tried. Even my nose to nose camera work didn’t upset them too much.

This is from a very nice supportive Paper Wasp article at Bug of the Month written  by Louise Kulzer:

“Paper wasps have a special liking for umbelliferous plants. Having chewing mouthparts, they are not able to reach far for nectar, as bees can. Umbels have shallow nectaries, and make suitable fast food stops.
Dill and fennel are especially good, but parsley, parsnip or carrot gone to seed are useful too.
So do yourself a favor this fall – let some umbels flower, and be prepared for the gangling paper wasps to grace your garden.”

And there is a good piece on natural pest control  from “Small Farm Permaculture and Sustainable Living” with this accompanying photo and some extra words of wisdom.

“Treat all spiders with love and care and provide rocks or logs around the garden to encourage the crawlers”


How to pose a paper wasp?

I have done quite a few more sketches today and have been thinking about how I want to pose this wasp for a colour study. It’s an interesting problem because the way I position it will influence how it will be perceived.
I want to show the beauty of it but perhaps not the threatening side. In the bottom drawing below, the lowered head and thorax is a predatory pose, as is the front faced stare.

sketch 2

so I considered more of a top view which shows off the beautiful markings and disengages that baleful look.

pencil 4 sm

Here I turned the head to give a bit more movement and a nicer line and I was almost sure I was going to paint this one .. so made a few more detailed sketches.

sketch 5 sm

sketch 6sm

However , my final decision was made late this morning after I had been to pay the wasps a visit. I watched a wasp land on top of the wall and turn its head to look at me.
This seemed a perfect pose , looking round rather than full on. I don’t think there can be much upward movement in the head of a paper wasp because of the hard carapace of the body, but the turned head just gives the wasp a little more personality and some, not too threatening, eye contact.

I like to see the eyes of things.
By nature they seem curious and watchful creatures and very aware of your presence.

And I did get a couple of head studies done. I am fascinated by the eye shape.

pencil headsm

wasps hds

Conversations with Paper Wasps

It was warmer yesterday, just a bit.
Over the cold spell I have become more and more fascinated with the little paper wasps. I go and check regularly on their progress and, hoping that the same works for wasps as for bees, I tell them what’s going on and ask how they are.

I have to tell you that they are not easy to see because their nest is tucked right underneath the handrail of the concrete balcony, you have to bend double and look up, then you are more or less face to mandible.
Yesterday I spent some time with them. The conversation went something like this:

“Hi. How are you doing today? It was very cold last night wasn’t it?’’

“Yes it was .. we were outside and you were inside…maybe you hadn’t noticed, we are, fine thanks for asking”.

“I see you are still huddled up together on the top of the nest”

“Yes that’s because it’s cold, stupid”

“It’s going to be warmer today”

“Really. Well, that’s good news because maybe you will stop blowing on us to see if we are alive… really, we are fine”

“Well I am glad to see your are doing OK .. I’m just going to take a couple of photos.”

“ Ok we are not going anywhere much just yet, and it amuses us to see you struggling with those enlarging rings. Have your knees given way yet?

“I am just trying to get one good photo to put on my blog”

“Your what???”

“It’s something I do online. People all over the world will be able to see you. If I make you look attractive it will do wonders for your image.”

“We could certainly use some help there”

“Ok, hold it now.. bear with me. If you could just take your head out of that cell it would help. ..niiiiice ..”

……some time passes during which I look at my pathetic blurry pictures, and then try again.

“Hi, me again, I see you haven’t moved very much in the last hour” 

“Well there is not a lot of incentive for travelling when it’s cold enough to freeze the wings right off your body and we only have a small nest here to walk around.. So what exactly do you want now. We have been very patient with you. We CAN sting you know.”

“Yes I know, but I have read that you are quite laid back, as paper wasps go.”

“We are, that’s true but every wasp has its limits.. when I shake my wings take it as a sign to go …look I am lifting them now, so hurry up and get that camera out of my face..  and give us another laugh will you?  Have another go at pronouncing our name..”

Mischocyttarus mexicanus cubicola…..”

Wasp rolls around laughing….


wasps 2

There were maybe 3 reasonable photos and those, along with some bad ones gave me enough to identify these strange creatures and make some sketches. Hopefully more tomorrow.

wasp sk 1

wasp sk 2 jpg

Big Leaf, Tiny Wasp’s Nest.

I have had this big loquat leaf on my table for a couple months now.
I found it while watching bees who were busy on the loquat flowers and wondered why a wasp would start a nest in such a precarious place as the exposed surface of a leaf.

Presumably the wasp felt the same and after making only 6 exquisite cells, abandoned this one for a more secure location. It was also strange that the same day I discovered a paper wasp’s nest neatly tucked under the concrete balustrade of our terrace.

The wasps are still there and are quite beautiful, slender and delicate. I hope to paint one very soon. At the moment the weather is icy so they have formed a huddle on top of the nest. I wonder if they will survive. I wonder if I will survive. Florida apartments are not built for cold weather.

Paper wasp nest cells on Loquat Leaf:

paper wasp nest

Pencil Drawing on cartridge paper 12”

The leaf is about 10 inches long. The leaf had dried out and curled in on itself, hiding those nice serrated edges .