Vol. 10 Issue 4, Winter 2005
By Nicole Hamilton
Many of us have seen the nests of paper wasps under the eaves of roofs or under large branches. For those who monitor bluebird nest boxes, we often encounter these wasps trying to build a nest inside the roof of a box. The nests are made by female wasps that bite off tiny pieces of wood or tree bark, chew it in their moths, and combine it with salvia to make pulp. This pulp is then used to make the nest cells. The nest of a paper wasp may be as small as a few cells or as many as 200 cells.
Paper wasps lead an interesting life. In fall, the male and female wasps mate. As the days grow shorter and colder, both sexes go into hibernation in rock crevices and rotting logs. They stay in these crevices through the cold of winter, but only the females survive to spring.
As the warm days of spring return, the females (now the queens) fly in search of a spot to build their nests. They will begin by building a couple of cells and laying an egg in each.A fascinating behavior occurs during this period. If for some reason a queen is not able to complete her nest, she will join another queen and become part of that queen’s group of workers.
As the larvae grow, they emerge and join the force of female workers. At the end of summer, the queen lays more eggs, and it is now that she uses the sperm that she received from the male the fall before to fertilize some of the eggs. These fertilized eggs are fed extra amounts of food, for they carry the hopes of the next generation, growing into both males and the queens for the next year. As fall returns, the queen stops laying eggs, the workers stop working so hard, and the males and new queens leave the nest to begin the new cycle.