I hope you’re enjoying the cooler temperatures and blue skies of September.
Our next event is:
When: October 22, 2011
Event: Make a Difference Day
Where: To be announced
I receive phone calls about Yellowjackets this time of year. I thought I’d write a bit about them.Yellowjackets are a wasp. They along with Bald-faced Hornets (also a wasp) are considered ”soical “wasps. They collectively raise young and protect their homes. If you’re ever attacked by wasps or hornets drop as low to the ground as possible and stay motionless. They are attracted to motion.
Queen Yellowjackets spend the winter tucked deep in the crevice of bark or other protected areas in a state called diapause (a type of dormancy). When the warm temperatures of spring and the threat of frost have passed they come out and look for a place to start building a paper nest. Most of the time queens choose a protected area, such as a hole in the ground or even in house siding. They’ll find decaying wood and takes big mouthfuls, mixing it with saliva to form a type of paper to use in building. A Queen builds a structure of cells and lays the first eggs which were fertilized by a male the previous fall. The eggs hatch and the queen tends to the larvae, feeding them protein in the form of caterpillars and other insects until they pupate into adults. These adults, all female workers, take over complete care of larvae and nest building. The queen’s only job from this point forward is to lay eggs and she might never again leave the nest.
The workers tend to larvae bringing the same pre chewed protein rich meals of other insects. (Interestingly, scientists have discovered that many times the intestines of prey are discarded.) Larvae produce a very sweet substance which the adults relish. This process is called trophallaxis. That is, when food or liquid is passed between organisms (mouth to mouth or anus to mouth) for feeding. Adult Yellowjackets also find nourishment in pollen and nectar. The nest expands throughout the summer. Only the shorter days of fall bring changes to the nest. Large females are born and intended to be the next year’s queens. The only males of the season are also born in fall. They along with the larger females leave the nests to find mates. Males die after mating. Fertilized females fatten themselves and seek refuge for winter, emerging in the spring to start the process again.
Another fall change in Yellowjackets can be obvious to humans; that is the change in the diet of workers. As the final larvae of the year reach adulthood there is less sugary substance produced for workers to eat and they are forced to find food elsewhere. Workers seek our sugary meals and even pluck protein from our picnic plates. This stage is fleeting. Cold weather will soon take its toll and worker lives will end. However, sales of Yellowjacket traps increase this time of year. Just remember to keep food tightly covered and slowly move away from Yellowjackets. Swatting and running can provoke them.
Insects are easy to overlook because of their size, but according to my Handy Bug Answer Book there are over 900,000 known insect species, about 75 percent of all the known animals on Earth. Amazing. Insects affect us in a wide variety of ways. Regardless of the good and bad they play an integral part in the world. Tell us an insect story!