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Wasps are appearing!

By Chris Williams on March 18, 2019.

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After mid-winter temperatures for most of last week this second full week of March is looking very mild temperatures in the 40’s and maybe even mid 50’s with rain later in the week. So long to my beloved xc ski trails for this season it seems. What kind of wasps are appearing? I got a report from one of my family members of a ‘hornet’ in one of the upper bedrooms of my in-laws’ huge farmhouse. Here’s where common names/regional names etc. can become confusing. The Northern paper wasp (Polistes fuscatus) is often referred to as a hornet in New England. Technically, it is a paper wasp belonging to the family Vespidae.  This native species is very common with a very large range and occurs from Canada all the way south to Florida. It is a dark reddish brown to black wasp with two light yellow bands that circle the abdomen.  During flight this species and its related European counterpart (Polistes dominulus), characteristically dangle their legs below themselves.  Northern paper wasp is a very well-studied species with very elaborate social behaviors.  As overwintering females emerge from hibernation, colonies are built around a single dominant queen.  Other fertile wasps may begin assisting the dominant queen in construction of the nest, but are subordinate to the queen. The dominant queen will in fact eat the eggs of the subordinate females further cementing her dominance.  Co-foundresses may be chased off by the queen or forced into worker status in raising the queen’s first brood.  The queen’s offspring are infertile and also act as workers foraging, expanding the nest, and caring for the developing wasps.  Female wasps that are capable of becoming fertile as well as male wasps are raised during the late summer.  Mating occurs during the late summer/early fall.

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The wasps that are appearing now in homes are basically future ‘founding queens’ that have used the building as a place to overwinter since last fall. With spring a little over a week away soon, the cycle will be starting again.  Please contact us if you are having trouble with paper wasps.  

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