Posts Tagged: European paper wasp
Last weekend a little critter made its first-ever appearance in our family bee garden. It was neither a grand entrance nor a grand insect.
"A fly!" I thought, as I looked at its knoblike bristle or arista on the end of each antenna.
But its body--what little I could see of it before it winged out of there--definitely resembled a wasp. A Western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica) or European paper wasp (Polistes dominula).
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, identified it as a syrphid fly, genus Ceriana, family Syrphidae.
Talented Davis photographer Allan Jones captured an excellent photo of Ceriana in 2012. A full body shot: head, thorax and abdomen! His excellent image (second one, below) shows the distinguishing characteristics: two wings (fly), not four wings (bees, wasps), as well as the arista (fly) and the spongelike mouthparts (fly).
BugGuide.Net posted some excellent images of Ceriana on its site. Class: Insecta. Order, Diptera. Family: Syrphidae: Genus: Ceriana.
Ceriana is a genus of wasp mimics. Basically, it's a syrphid fly, a pollinator. It's also known as a hover fly or flower fly as it hovers, helicopterlike, over flowers before drops down to forage.
Would-be predators, no doubt, avoid Ceriana because of its coloration. "Oops, don't mess with that! That's a wasp!"
Picnickers who don't know a faux wasp from a real one would probably run from it, or swat at it.
"It's definitely a good mimic and probably gets a lot of protection from that coloration," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
This wasp mimic is actually a fly, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Davis photographer Allan Jones captured this fantastic image of the wasp mimic, Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanic, which looks a lot like the wasp mimic, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. A syrphid fly mimics this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
When you're trying to rear Gulf Fritillary butterflies (Agraulis vanillae), expect the expected: predators.
It doesn't take long for European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) to find the butterfly's host plant, the passionflower vine (Passsiflora) and prey. We've seen the wasps, with their long hind legs dangling, follow the butterflies as they flit from tendrils to leaves to lay their eggs. The wasps grab the tiny yellow eggs and squirming caterpillars and rip into chrysalids.
They'll attack adult butterflies, too, especially the crippled ones.
Then off they fly with bits of food--protein--for their colony. Wasps are carnivores (unlike their cousins, the honey bees, which are vegetarians).
The European paper wasp, so named because of its European origin, is relatively new to the United States. Scientists tell us that the P. dominula was not recorded in North America until 1981. P. dominula was first discovered in the United States in the late 1970s near Boston, Mass. This invasive species has since spread rapidly across the country. Entomologists worry that it is displacing the native species of Polistes wasps.
Have you ever seen these wasps attack other insects? Butterflies?
Last Sunday we were watching a crippled butterfly (no doubt crippled by a predator such as a bird or praying mantis) clinging to a Passiflora leaf as males tried unsuccessfully to mate with her. Eventually, the males all fluttered away and a European paper wasp patrolling the area zeroed in for the attack.
Like a hungry lion singling out a crippled gazelle from a stampeding herd, the European paper wasp knew just what to do.
European paper wasp targets a crippled Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A European paper wasp attacks a crippled Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The injured abdomen of the Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatle Garvey)
European paper wasp grips the Gulf Fritillary. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Your mother laid an egg, you hatched into a caterpillar, and you're eating as much as you can before you spin into a chrysalis and then emerge, as a butterfly, ready to start the life cycle over again.
You are not aware of the European paper wasp, its long legs dangling, moving through the leaves and eating the newly laid eggs around you. The wasp lurks in the deep, dark shadows as you finish one bite and reach for another.
Then you see the predator coming after you.
It does not end well for you. You have become protein for the wasp to feed its young.
For several weeks now, the European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) have wreaked havoc on the Gulf Frit population on our Passiflora. Sometimes they pair up in twos, sometimes in threes and fours, and once a horde of five descended
They follow the fluttering butterflies as they touch down on a leaf to lay an egg. Then they eat the eggs, kill the caterpillars, and tear apart the chrysalids.
European paper wasps are relatively new invaders from Europe; they were first spotted in the United States in 1981 in Massachusetts. They are now colonizing the entire country, taking over the native wasps' territory.
There's good news and then there's bad news. If you like having European paper wasps around to prey on the larvae of hornworms, cabbageworms and tent caterpillars, then you may consider them beneficial insects. But if you're trying to rear a few butterflies, such as the Gulf Fritillaries (Agraulis vanillae), then they're Public Enemy No. 1.
Studies show that they can also be cunning.
According to an article out of Michigan State University: "A Cornell University researcher has found that certain female wasps, without nests of their own, 'sit and wait' for an opportunity to adopt an orphaned nest or hijack a nest from another queen. These sit-and-wait female wasps prefer to adopt the most mature nests, probably because these nests will produce workers the soonest, and colonies with workers are very likely to survive. Once a queen adopts a nest she will eat the former queen's eggs and young larvae and replace them with her own eggs. The older larvae and pupae, which belonged to the former queen, are allowed to complete development and may eventually help rear the adopting female's offspring. Ferocious hunters, paper wasps feast on caterpillars."
"The nests are usually founded by a single Queen or Foundress, who starts her nest in May having hibernated as a mated queen throughout the winter often in the company of all the other mated females from their parental nest."
See photos of European paper wasps on BugGuide.net.
Meanwhile, we figure that only about 10 percent of the Gulf Frit eggs will ever make it into butterflies--no thanks to assorted predators.
But a few will make it, and what spectacular butterflies they will be!
A European paper wasp on the hunt. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A European paper wasp attacks a Gulf Fritillary caterpillar. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The European paper wasp tears apart the caterpillar, food for its young. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
People aren't the only ones favoring fava beans.
Fava beans growing in a raised bed in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis, are attracting honey bees, European paper wasps, lacewings, ladybugs, aphids and carpenter bees.
We saw all six insects on a trip to the haven last Friday.
While the honey bees and carpenter bees gathered nectar, the European paper wasps, lacewings and the ladybugs searched for prey. The ladybugs were also searching for mates.
The half-acre bee friendly garden, located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, west of the central campus, is open year around from dawn to dusk. Admission is free. Visitors can conduct their own self-guided tours by following the signs and reading the plant labels. Groups that want a guided tour (the cost is $4 per person) can contact Christine Casey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, life is good in the fava beans.
A lady beetle, aka ladybug, prowling on a fava bean leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
European paper wasp on the hunt. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on a fava bean blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Female Valley carpenter bee robbing nectar by slitting the corolla. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An anise swallowtail fluttered in and out of the tall anise bordering the banks of the Benicia Marina.
A beautiful sight.
The female butterfly (Papilio zelicaon), as identified by butterfly expert Arthur Shapiro, professor of evolution and ecology at the University of California, Davis, was probably laying eggs, he told us.
The butterfly is often confused with a Western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus). Their coloring does indeed look similar.
As for the anise butterflies, "they have several generations (late February or March-October) and breed very largely on sweet fennel ("anise"), Foeniculum vulgare, and (in the first half of the season) poison hemlock, Conium maculatum," Shapiro writes on his popular website, Art's Butterfly World. "Both of these are naturalized European weeds."
The larvae of the anise swallowtail use fennel as a food plant. Something else about anise: If you crush the leaves, they smell like licorice.
While we were watching the anise swallowtail, something else was watching her: an European paper wasp.
Wasps eat butterfly eggs.
Female anise swallowtail,Papilio zelicaon, as identified by butterfly expert Art Shapiro of UC Davis, visiting anise at the Benicia Marina. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A female anise swallowtail,Papilio zelicaon, touches down on anise at the Benicia Marina. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Up and away--the female anise swallowtail flutters away. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
European paper wasp, apparently scouting the anise for butterfly eggs. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)