Sunday, 16 October 2011

Scattered Nest in pen & ink and soluble graphite

This week's Illustration Friday prompt is scattered. And this? Scattered remnants of a wasp nest.

This time of year if you're out on the trails in Alberta (for that matter, pretty much anywhere in North America that has actual winter) it's not uncommon to see paper wasp nests in pieces on the ground. In my area it's usually nests from the Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata, for my fellow nerds), but the nests from any paper-making species are ripe for attack. It's not like the wasps care, though. They're not using them anymore.

For all their impressive structure, paper wasp nests are only seasonal homes. They can have very high populations working in them (and protecting them,as anyone who's had the misfortune to disturb one can tell you) towards the end of summer, but by the time of hard frosts they're abandoned. Not very good winter housing, you see. A wasp colony living in a frozen paper nest has no way of keeping itself warm and active, so the wasps would be easy picking for any predators that came along. It takes a lot of costly energy to keep a whole colony going all winter anyway, so the wasps have a double problem. The solution? A little drastic-sounding, maybe, but very common with a lot of insects: let 'em all die. That's right. Pretty much the entire colony just dies off every year. The queen finds a winter burrow somewhere, and starts the whole thing over again come spring.

The abandoned nests, however, aren't exactly empty.

What's left? Well, any immature wasps that didn't quite make it, any adult wasps who were still caring for them; that sort of thing. And as soon as the colony dies off, the scavengers attack the old nest looking for goodies. Scavengers like chickadees and other non-migratory insect eaters. They'll tear apart the nests with gusto, looking for the leftovers and scattering the papery remains to the wind.

Nature, as usual, is the first and best recycler. I think that's cool, but then I'm sure no one's surprised by my finding nature cool at this point.

1 comment:

Linda Hensley said...

I didn't know all of this. Thanks for the lesson! I'm liking chickadees all the more for eating things with stingers :)

Related Posts with Thumbnails