We credit the Chinese with inventing paper 2000 years ago, but some social wasps have been making their paper nests for eons. Species of paper wasps are found throughout Utah.
The burly bald-faced hornet workers are patterned in black and white. They place their grey, basketball sized paper nests in tree branches.
Bold yellow and black striped Yellowjackets are the persistent unwelcome guests at summer picnics. They too wrap their round nests in an envelope of paper, but typically place it in a shallow underground chamber. Within the paper envelope, both hornets and yellowjackets have a muti-tiered stack of paper honeycombs, like an inverted pagoda.
Our most familiar paper wasps belong to the genus Polistes. These are the reddish-brown spindly looking wasps. They make their simple paper nests under your home's roof eaves and deck railings. A Polistes nest consists of a single inverted paper honeycomb suspended from a stiff, short stalk. There is no paper envelope, so you can readily see the hexagonal paper cells. Around your yard, look for the workers scraping fibers from weathered wood surfaces. Workers mix the chewed fibers with saliva and water, carry the ball of wood pulp home, and add it to the thin sheets of their paper nest. The nest is their nursery, where you can see the queen's tiny sausage shaped eggs and the fat white grubs. The grubs are fed by their sisters, the workers, who scour the surrounding habitat for insect prey or damaged fruit.
Utah has been invaded by the European species Polistes dominula. These interlopers are displacing our native Polistes. Where these European Polistes wasps are a stinging nuisance, you can easily dispatch them at their nests with a sprayed solution of dishwashing detergent and water. Thus stripped of its clever defenders, take the opportunity to admire their homes of paper.
This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.
Photo: Courtesy and © Copyright 2009 Jim Cane
Text: Jim Cane, Bridgerland Audubon Society
Wild About Utah is a weekly nature series produced by Utah Public Radio in cooperation with Stokes Nature Center and Bridgerland Audubon Society. Archives of the program can be found at www.wildaboututah.org.