Paper wasps again

Most people don’t like paper wasps because they have such a painful sting but I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to dislike them (the wasps, that is, not the people).

I find them interesting because their lifestyle bridges the gap between the social insects, like honey-bees and most ants, and the non-social majority. Paper wasps are technically semi-social, as shown in a chart borrowed from an introductory entomology course.

“Primitively eusocial wasp colonies, such as Polistes, are commonly inherited by dominant workers on the death of a queen,” according to a short but fairly technical article on Scitable about evolutionary advantages (through kin selection) of sociality.

All of which is an introduction to these recent photos, taken on one of the regular Wildlife Queensland walks. The first shows a paper wasp adding to its family home.

Paper wasp Polistes stigma
The wasp with construction material

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Yellow paper wasps on the move

A reader’s recent query grew into an interesting discussion and, with her permission, I have turned it into a blog post as I did with the Kookaburra story a year ago. The photos are hers, as is most of the text; I’ve just edited it lightly for clarity and continuity. My emails are in italics, while my introductory and linking text is formatted (illogically, I know) as quoted text like this.

Pat to Malcolm, 12 April

Hi, Malcolm,

We live on the banks of the Barron River in Mareeba and I’m pretty sure these wasps are the yellow paper wasp you wrote about and put on line.

The initial nest was in a low lying branch in my front yard and I accidentally hit the branch or nest and out came wasps and I got stung. (I’m allergic, so a bit of a big deal.)

After a few days I noticed a swarm at my front porch, and although not wanting to poison them we had to encourage them to move on, and mostly they did. One tiny nest remained and my husband will remove it this evening.

But this morning on the big eucalyptus tree in our back area toward the river, the swarm looks like it is in the thousands, and building very different sort of ‘nests’ down the trunk of the white tree, a vertical row of individual pieces protruding off the tree. It doesn’t look like the usual nest but the nest in the bunya tree in our front yard (at least I think it’s a bunya – super straight, very tall and with cones) might be the same kind except that it’s about 50 feet up on the bunya.

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Yellow paper wasp nest

Some years ago I noted that I had seen yellow paper wasps, Ropalidia romandi, in my garden but hadn’t seen the nest, presumably also in my garden, which they were coming from. Its location could have been vital information, saving me from a nasty confrontation, so I kept on looking – with no success at all.

I finally spotted it very recently, above the roof-line of our high-set house in a paperbark tree (please visit this page if you want to call it a bottlebrush – it’s both) and overhanging the neighbours’ fence. A clear view of it was only possible from one or two locations even when I knew it was there, so I don’t feel too chagrined at missing it for so long.

Yellow Paper Wasp nest on Melaleuca
Yellow Paper Wasp nest on Melaleuca

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Insects in my new Townsville garden

Each garden attracts some different insects and spiders from its neighbours because of the different food plants and micro-habitats it offers. The difference between our old garden and our new one is most apparent in the butterflies, since their caterpillars often eat only one or two species of plant.

Here we haven’t (yet) got any Plumbago, so we have no Plumbago Blue butterflies; but we do have Cycads.

cycad blue butterfly
Cycad Blue on the rib of a caterpillar-chewed cycad frond

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Visiting Turtle Rock on Hervey’s Range

The Townsville branch of Wildlife Queensland has resumed its monthly-except-wet-season excursions and their April trip was to Turtle Rock, an indigenous rock shelter high on Hervey’s Range. It’s a site I had known about for years but never seen, so I was very happy to be able to join the expedition.

Turtle Rock is on private land between Sharps Rd and Edward Rd; access is across the paddocks from the former, a 20 minute walk which can be shortened by driving part-way (as most of us did) or to the foot of the rock (as one of us did). The landowners, the Fryer family, are happy to have people visiting the site at any time but a courtesy phone call is a good idea and may avoid any difficulties with the access track.

Turtle Rock
Turtle Rock rising from a sea of trees

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