The pictured duo may look like refugees from an Orkin® commercial. (If you haven’t seen a recent Orkin commercial, the title of this post undoubtedly has you baffled.) But these chitin-clad beauties will probably not be ringing your door bell or eating your house. They could be building their own papier-mache houses under an eave, in your mailbox or in any other semi-concealed cranny. Polistes is the name—paper nest making is their game.
If I have them taxonomically pegged, the top photo is of Polistes dominulus, while the bottom bunk is occupied by P. annularis. They are two of the twenty or more species of paper wasps found in the U.S. While P. annularis is a native species, P. dominulus found its way to Massachusetts from Europe, in some modern version of the Mayflower, somewhere around 1980. In less than thirty years, it has colonized most of the continent. It’s just one more of those unfortunate alien species stories with which we have become so familiar. P. dominulus, while mostly harmless, has probably displaced some native wasps. By the way, although it resembles a Yellow-jacket, it is larger, and it doesn't particularly enjoy picnics like that pesky little hornet does.
Paper wasps are voracious predators, attacking leaf-munching caterpillars, making them beneficial to gardeners—except when it involves the larvae of our favorite butterflies. Of course, the adults don’t eat the caterpillars; they sting them to paralyze them, then take them back to the hive, chew them up and spit them out for the benefit of their babies. Adult wasps are limited to a liquid diet of nectar, honeydew (secreted by aphids) and even liquid food upchucked on cue by their babies. That is the downside of having a wasp waist (the envy of every human female) and digestive organs located in the abdomen—nothing but liquid gets past the constriction.
There must be a lesson or two in here somewhere, at least for the Christian reader. Maybe it’s “don’t be a wasp-waist Bible reader”. Yes, meditate on the Word. Chew on it—but be sure you digest it for yourself before trying to share it with others. That works. Soli Deo Gloria.