The Northern Paper Wasp and the European Paper Wasp are in the widespread genus Polistes in the family Vespidae. They’re called paper wasps because they chew on bits of paper, wood, bark, etc, mix it with saliva, and form the resulting pulp into a nest typical of their species. Paper wasps target many caterpillars that gardeners consider pests, and in a nod to their pest-control value, people put up nest boxes for them.
Thread-waisted wasps mostly nest in the ground or build free-standing nests from mud. Although the female is primarily a vegetarian that sips nectar from flowers as she hunts, she provides protein for her young. Most target the caterpillars of moths and a few skipper butterflies and the larvae of their distant sawfly relatives.
In lieu of the usual bug biography, the BugLady presents The Twelve Bugs of Christmas—a tribute to a dozen insects (a Baker’s Dozen, really) that were photographed this year but not featured in a BOTW. Let the singing commence.
The Carrot Wasp adults are usually found eating nectar and pollen on flowers in the carrot family (including Wild Parsnip). The long, arched abdomen is similar to that of an Ichneumon wasp, but CWs have a noticeable neck, and the tibias on its back legs are enlarged. There are 15 species in the genus in North America, five of those in the east, and they look pretty much alike—mostly black with varying orange bands on the gaster.
The Organ Pipe/Pipe Organ Mud Dauber are smallish wasps with a patent-leather black, purplish wings, and white “ankles” on their back legs. They are not aggressive—males have no stingers, and you really have to man-handle a female to get her to sting. There are about 30 species in the genus across North America (more elsewhere), but the OPMD is found mostly in the eastern U.S.
People get excited when pussy willows whisper the spring. The BugLady thinks it’s more fun to skulk among the pussy willows when they are actually blooming (the gray, fuzzy “bud” is the future female catkin), ogling the diversity of insects that come to visit. Willows are dioecious (separate house), bearing their male and female flowers on different plants
The BugLady has been stalking invertebrates that hang out on the east wall of the Field Station lab. The wall is painted cinderblock that warms up in the morning and probably keeps some heat as it gets shaded in the afternoon. Grass grows right up to the edge of the building. The BugLady hypothesizes that bugs can enjoy the residual warmth without getting fried by the sun, because she sees some small critters on the north wall but very few on the bright south wall. She found some familiar faces and some new ones—plant-eaters and an array of carnivores that come to collect the herbivores.
The Black and Yellow Mud Dauber is a common, native wasp that occurs in meadows and gardens from Canada to the West Indies and which has hitched a ride from North America to Europe and Australia. BYMDs build nests from mud, while other species of sphecids may nest in vegetation or in abandoned cavities. As each cell nears completion, the wasp hunts for and paralyzes invertebrates (spiders, in the case of the BYMD) to provision the nests.
It’s a good thing that the BugLady doesn’t have nearby neighbors (or a Home Owners’ Association) who might be alarmed about someone who turns on the porch light and then creeps around taking pictures of porch critters at midnight.
To attract Giant Ichneumon Wasp two ingredients are necessary; first, a dead tree, and second, a distant GIW relative, a primitive wasp called a pigeon horntail. GIW larvae are parasitoids. They eat other insects, slowly, starting with non-essential structures and ending with essential organs, so that the host stays alive until the parasitoid is ready to pupate. In this case, the unfortunate victim is the larva of the pigeon horntail that is developing in a chamber in the rotting wood.