Sunday, August 2, 2015

Wasp Hunting

Display, Thurston Co Fair Beekeeper booth -- Bald-faced hornet
Now is the time of year where the aerial nests of yellow-jackets and bald-faced hornets assume a size of significance, easily exceeding a soccer ball in size.  I respect them, and give the nests wide berth.  Soon, the nests will start producing queens and drones and by September each nest will have started its inevitable decline into chaos.  But for now (early August), each working female is intent on provisioning the young in the ever-growing nest.

This week I put in a stint at the Beekeeper Booth at our county fair,  and read an article by Rusty Burlew / with some of her recent observations of wasps.  So I've been thinking about and looking for them.  But I was not expecting my attentions to lead to the following wasp tale, fascinating if somewhat gross -- and perhaps understandably unphotographed.

Really this tale really started the day before with a malodorous cat gift underfoot -- grumble grumble -- a mishap that put both Janet and me in a state of greater alertness.  Today it was Janet who saw a feline land mine in the middle of our dry lawn.  To those who do not know us, our response was peculiar, for instead of following a disposal plan, we brought out the lawn chairs: two bald-faced hornets were locked in an energetic stinging battle over this apparently valuable resource.

Bald-faced hornet on fennel
This we watched for a while.  I, having hose in hand and perhaps feeling a slight degree of pity for both the battle and for creatures reduced to this as a source of moisture and nutrition, gave both wasps and poo a shot of water.  One wasp circled and returned to the target and lawn -- now fresher and more attractive.  A couple of dozen flies invited themselves to the revitalized bounty. 

With the flies, the battle scene truly became murderous.  The remaining BFH revealed herself to be an adept hunter, adroitly capturing a fly, flying off presumably to her nest, and then returning.  We watched for a while with a perverse sense of appreciation combined with some disgust.  Finally, I removed the hazard.

But the wet lawn, odors, and insect routines remained, and thus Janet and I did not leave either.  The provisioning hunts by this wasp continued — waiting, pouncing, circling, waiting, waiting, darting, pouncing, and in time, success.  With the main nutritive target gone, flies were fewer and more twitchy, and the difficulty of hunting increased.  Our primary knowledge of wasp feeding habits has been learned while seated at the picnic table, when a meal is animated only by its being moved from barbecue to plate to mouth.  This was different.  So we watched the show and speculated, with a running commentary and considerable admiration.

I will still give wide berth to the nest of this wasp, just as I would to a roaming grizzly bear or resting rattlesnake.  But this paper-making hunter has my respect on a whole new level.


Short video by Miklos Bacso of Bald-faced Hornet hunting, similar story -- sorry about the ads.
Photo Credits
Nest photo Paul Henderson for Thurston Co Fair
BFH photo Nancy Partlow

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