As light as a paper wasp nest

So a few months back, Dr Turnip (aka Mr Civiltalker) returned from the shed with a precious gift. It was the wonderfully delicate nest of a paper wasp, pictured below. I was quite astonished by it, as I had no idea what it was and had never seen one before. But luckily, Dr Turnip being a life-scientist, knew exactly what it was when he saw it attached to a folded up wooden chair.

Paper wasps make their honeycomb-shaped nests out of wood (or other fibres) mixed with their saliva — hence the name paper. They are very light and quite amazing to look at. Soon after we took the photos, our find blew out of the side hatch and landed in the water, it was quite literally (and I do mean “literally”) as light as a feather. When I reached down to the water to retrieve it before it floated away, the wet part had gone sticky and gluey — rehydrated wasp saliva!

The cells of this nest are open, and contained no eggs (this was back in May), so we may have robbed a potential wasp family of their home. As there were only a few cells, I am guessing that it was unfinished. Individual eggs are laid in each cell of the nest, and the larvae are fed other insects by the queen. When they are ready to pupate (turn into a pupa), they seal over their cell, from which they will emerge some weeks later as adult wasps.

We used to have a wooden garden table and chairs, which we left outdoors when we lived in London. That got stripped of its outer fibres by paper wasps, and it looks like wooden items in the shed might also be at risk of the same fate. If you notice wooden items going a bit splintery, and seem to have sectioned being stripped off, maybe it’s paper wasps harvesting your furniture too?

Thanks to Colorado State University for the background info on paper wasps. Dr Turnip knows a lot more interesting stuff about wasps and their social lives, but I’ll leave that for another time. If you know about paper wasps and wish to add anything, then post a comment below!

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