Communal Life of Wasps

Above: Cell structure of a paper wasp nest, June 18, 2018

George W. and Elizabeth G. Peckham

“We were walking through the woods one hot day in the middle of August when our attention was attracted by a stream of yellow-jackets issuing from the ground. They came in such surprising numbers and looked so full of energy that we stopped to watch them… Wasps love the heat of noontide, and with every rise in temperature they fly faster, hum louder, and rejoice more and more in the fullness of life. The entrance to the Vespa nest was but an inch across; and once, when they were going in and out in a hurrying throng, jostling each other in their eagerness, we counted the number that passed, one taking the entrances and one the exits. In ten minutes five hundred and ninety-two left the nest and two hundred and forty-seven went it, so that we saw eight hundred and thirty-nine or about eighty to the minute. This must be a strong swarm, wonderful indeed when we thought that it had all come from a single mother.”

Married entomologists George W. Peckham (1845-1914) and Elizabeth G. Peckham (1854-1940) were keen observers of wasps and spiders. I read a chapter about yellow-jackets from their 1903 book, Wasps, Social and Solitary, for the 57th volume of the Nonfiction Collection.

Last fall, I happened upon an abandoned paper wasp nest which the wind had blown to the ground. The outside layers, made from chewed wood, felt like heavy, handmade paper.  A fallen leaf had been incorporated into the shell, visible at bottom right.

photo of paper wasp nest

When I pulled back the outer layers, this is what the combs looked like.

Photo of inside of paper wasp nest

 The nest was a marvelous creation!


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