Saturday, September 26, 2015

Garden homemakers

Eagle-eyed Pam did it again this morning – spotted a wasp's nest being started on our succulent Kalanchoe 'Copper Spoons'. I already knew about another wasp nest underway outside our kitchen window, so I thought it'd be nice to share some images of both nests with you in yet another "ain't nature wonderful" posting. But what really amazed me was how my eagle-eyed camera managed to get inside one of the wasp nests to show what's happening there at the moment. They're making babies!

Look closely inside each little perfect "cell" of this paper wasp's nest and you can see one little golden egg in each. In fact, look closely at the bottom-most cell on the right, and you can see the fine, papery fibres with which the wasp constructs the nest. The scientific name of this paper wasp is Polistes, and yes, I think this is the native species (although there are Asian paper wasps and European paper wasps in Australia as well).

EDIT/UPDATE: see the bottom of this posting for a bit more info on this wasp. It IS a native paper wasp, and thanks to the Australian Museum for their help in identifying it for me.

Here's what Pammy spotted earlier on: another little wasp nest being started on the Kalanchoe 'Copper Spoons' in our succulent patch.

This is an ideal spot for a nest, as far as we are concerned, as I never get that close to the Copper Spoons plant and so I am very unlikely indeed to ever disturb the wasps, and they in turn will remain, as they usually are, peaceful yet busy beneficial insects in our garden.

The other wasp nest outside our kitchen window is also in an ideal spot, high up on the window frame, on the side of the house where it's hard for people to blunder into them. Our kitchen window is also a sliding type, which slides from the other side, so the chance of a wasp ever making into the house, past the curtains, is virtually nil.

So this time they've chosen the sites for their new nests quite well. 

Over the years we have accidentally destroyed too many paper wasp nests, because they made them in spots where blundering human gardeners (ie, me) sometimes stick their stupid arms and hands. In 24 years here in our garden, I have been stung twice by our wasps, and both times were on the same day, in the same place. I hadn't realised our wasps had built a nest in our Grevillea, and so while pruning said Grevillea it took not one sting to alert me to the presence of a nest, but two. Talk about a slow learner!

By now regular readers would have guessed we do like a "live and let live" approach to all creatures great and small who we share our garden with. Poor old insects and spiders get a rough time from some otherwise nature-loving folk, who get creeped out by them. Pammy and I like our insects and spiders as much as our worms, lizards and birds.

Sure, the wasps are a higher risk factor but that doesn't mean peace is not possible.

Paper wasps are not aggressive if you don't disturb them. They are very like bees in many ways. Bees can sting if badly annoyed or if they feel threatened. So can paper wasps. 

(Admittedly, disturbing a whole, large nest of paper wasps, as I did once while trimming a murraya hedge with a powered hedge trimmer, does make them rather upset, with a cloud of black and yellow defenders buzzily filling the air, and so a rapid retreat, then staying out of their way for the next hour or so is a really, really good idea. Abandoning the hedge trimming altogether, or at least for a while, is also a good idea...) 

Besides, paper wasps are beneficial garden insects. Ours will be filling up their nests with insects they have caught in the garden, to provide a food supply when their babies hatch out. Many of the insects paper wasps catch are garden pests who eat our crops, such as caterpillars.

So, over 24 years with a policy of tolerating paper wasp nests as far as practicable, I have been stung twice, and both times it was my fault. I'm prepared to live with that kind of track record.

EDIT/UPDATE: a big THANKYOU to the Australian Museum (and Yvette Simpson, the Interpretive Officer there) for their help in making a positive ID of this wasp. I sent the Museum two of my photos, and Yvette says yes, it's a native paper wasp. She also supplied this excellent other link, if you want to read more on paper wasps.


Robyn Elliott said...

Hi Jamie
Im interested in your wasp post. Last summer, I too thought that those wasps were beneficial and let 2 nests develop until they became huge and whenever I looked out at my balcony, I could just see loads of wasps and no other insects.
I got rid of the nests (humanely and environmentally soundly!) but they keep returning and trying to build nests
I have since been informed that they are not native but European, and are detrimental to bee populations.
Im confused as to whether they are good or bad insects!

Jamie said...

Wow, Robyn. I had no idea that they are European. I'll check it out further and post an update once I find out what the story is. I know someone at the Australian Museum who could help identify them for me.

As for bees, my garden still has plenty of them, and there are native blue-banded bees here too, so I hope that my wasps aren't the detrimental kind.

Robyn said...

Hi Jamie, I could be wrong, and it sounds like you have done some research. I would be keen to hear further info, cheers, Robyn

Jamie said...


Check the revised posting. Good news, these are native paper wasps (plus there's a good new link explaining lots more about them) but thanks for your query ... I've learnt a lot more as a result!

Lanie at Edible Urban Garden said...

I was excitedly reading your post ready to add my positive ID to native paper wasp....but alas you are all over it. Beautiful photos Jamie and yes, amazing creatures.

Jamie said...

Thanks, Lanie.

The photo was a fluke. I only managed to get so close to the wasp's nest because there was a huge pane of (fairly dirty) glass between me (indoors) and Mrs Wasp ('er outdoors).

But I am so glad they are native wasps! They buzz about me all the time while I am out there in the garden on weekends, weeding, planting this, pruning that, and they're no more aggressive than the bees.