We want your Highland wasps!

September 4th 2019

We want your wasps!

That’s a request from the Highlife Highland Countryside Rangers and the Highland Biological Recording Group (HBRG).

Okay, wasps have a bad reputation and are probably best known for trying to steal your picnic but wasps really are an important part of our ecosystem; if they aren’t doing well then it is a warning that all is not well.

Adult wasps, both social and solitary, only feed on sugars which, in the wild, come from flower nectar and honeydew produced by aphids. The wasp larvae however are fed insect remains that the adults have caught and chopped up.

It’s estimated that each summer in the UK social wasps ‘process’ 14 million kilogrammes of insect prey, such as caterpillars and greenfly. Gardeners take note!

In addition, while their contribution to pollination may not be as significant as bees, wasps still play a vital role as they travel from plant to plant in search of nectar.

So, to help understand where we have different species of wasps across the Highlands the request is – next time you find a DEAD wasp, wrap it in tissue, make a note of the date and place you found it and take it in to your nearest Highland library. 

As our Assynt library is a mobile one the best thing, in Assynt at least, is hand it in to Andy Summers, the Highlife Highland Countryside ranger. His office is above An Cala in the Lochinver Mission building.

The aim is to enable HBRG to produce an Atlas of the distribution of our wasp species.

Wasps really are brilliant so next week* we’ll look at their ‘paper’ nests.

Second instalment*

Last Friday we posted that the Countryside Rangers and HBRG want any DEAD wasps that you find this year. The reason? so that an atlas of Highland wasp species’ distribution can be published.

This week, as promised, we’ll have a look at the nests made by social wasps, sometimes referred to as ‘paper wasps’. All will become clear.

In this country only newly mated queen wasps survive the winter and they do so by hibernating. In early spring, these queens emerge and begin the search for somewhere dry, safe and structurally sound enough to support a nest. This can be in house lofts, under floorboards, garden sheds, etc.

At this point the queen has no workers to help her in the early stages of nest building. So, she has to provide for herself and starts the construction by chewing wood and mixing it with her saliva to form a workable paper like pulp.

She continues until she has constructed a small nest housing a few brood cells, in each of which she lays an egg. The queen then feeds and cares for these offspring until they emerge as the first worker bees of the new colony.

These new workers, all sterile females, now assume the responsibility of foraging for food and enlarging the nest. Again they use wood which they have chewed to a workable consistency. The queen from now on is resigned to laying eggs for the rest of her life.

The colony continues to grow throughout the summer as the queen lays eggs and the workers, work!

In early autumn, the social bonds within the colony begin to break down and then a number of unfertilised eggs are laid, usually by unfertilised worker bees. These eggs develop into males that will mate with newly emerging queens and so the cycle repeats itself.

All quite fantastic and these photographs show a small, inactive nest and another open one with just brood cells. Both were in the same garden shed, unbeknown to the owner! and were no more than 4cm wide. These nests can reach the size of a basketball and contain from a few hundred to a few thousand individual wasps.

They are amazing pieces of architecture but also, without doubt, beautiful works of art.

David Haines

*This post is from our Facebook page of 19 and 26 July 2019

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