Archive for the ‘wasp’ Category

Hornets and yellowjackets

August 3, 2011

Common Aerial Yellowjacket on goldenrod


There are a number of species of wasps with bold designs of black or dark brown and yellow or black and white which go by the names of hornets or yellowjackets. They are narrow waisted strong fliers that fold their wings when in repose.

Baldfaced Hornet on goldenrod


There are several species of these wasps and the pattern varies depending on the species, but they generally present stripes. They are about half an inch in size or longer. They are feared for their painful sting, although they are not prone to attacking when at flowers. They build large nests, with a queen and many female workers and also some males.

Eastern Yellowjacket on Queen Anne's lace


Some build their nests underground (terrestrial), others hanging from tree branches or inside a tree hole (aerial) and still others build either aerial of terrestrial nests, depending on the circumstances. They are defensive of their nests and that is when they can be dangerous. They hunt insects to feed the young and also visit flowers for the nectar that fuels their flight. Some are lesser pollinators.

Habitat. Meadows, fields, gardens, areas with some trees.

Season. March to November, year round in southern states. Most abundant in August and September.

Flowers. Most wide open flowers, such as those in the Apiaceae and Asteraceae families. Goldenrod and Queen Anne’s lace seem to be their favorites.

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Potter wasps and mason wasps

April 12, 2011

Eumenes wasp or potter wasp


Nest of potter wasp under a goldenrod leaf

Some little wasps build nests that look exactly like clay pots, so, naturally, they are called potter wasps. You may find one of these interesting clay pots glued to the underside of a leaf or to a stem.
There are also other wasps, related to potter wasps that also use clay to build their nests, except that they do not make little pots, so these are called mason wasps. They make use of hollow twigs or abandoned holes made in wood by beetle larvae. Both mason and potter wasps capture prey, usually caterpillars, which they take to their nests to feed their brood

Mason wasp, Ancistrocerus antilope, on goldenrod

Both types of wasps are mostly black with a striking pattern of white or yellow stripes. They measure from ½” to ¾”. The abdomen of potter wasps has a second narrowing behind the “wasp waist” giving them a distinctive look. The abdomen of mason wasps is not like that of potter wasps. At most it has a slight narrowing and it is more robust.

Habitat. Fields, meadows, farms.

Season. From March to December, but mostly they are seen between July and October.

Flowers. A wide variety of flowers, mostly in the aster family; very numerous on goldenrods. Also in some Apiaceae, such as queen Anne’s lace.

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Grass-carrying wasps

April 11, 2011

Brown-legged Grass-carrier on mountain mint

Grass carrying wasps get their name from their habit to carry long pieces of grass which they use in their nests. If you see a flying stem or blade of grass, look again and you will notice the wasp that is carrying it. They are black, slender and with an incredibly long and thin waist. That is why their other common name is thread-waisted wasps. Their wings have a smoky or violet color.

Grass-carrying Wasp, Isodontia mexicana

They can be as large as ¾”. They make their nests inside hollow tubes, such as twigs or holes in wood. Sometimes they use the tracks of window screens or window frames which they stuff with grass before placing some prey and an egg. There may be a row of similarly prepared cells. There is nothing to be alarmed; these wasps pose no threat to humans and don’t damage your house. They catch katydids or crickets to feed their young, so they are good pest controls.

Habitat. Fields, open areas, grassy areas.

Season. From March to December in most of North America. Most common in July and August.

Flowers. Many kinds of flowers of the aster family, including goldenrods, also fennel, queen Anne’s lace and sedum

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