One of my side interests in this fascinating hobby is insect architecture. It is amazing what kinds of homes social insects are capable of building for themselves. The social wasps are masters at their craft. Out of mere wood fibers and a little saliva mixed in; they build, expand, and constantly maintain their home. They readily protect it from perceived threats and will sacrifice their own lives when necessary.
To quote the late Leonard Nimoy (as Spock):"The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few... or the one".
So, every autumn I strike out in search of nests which are still in great shape but, have had the contents killed off by the first one or two hard frosts. The window for this opportunity is small as our November winds tend to beat them up rather quickly without the inhabitants around to repair them. Usually, from the 2nd week of October until the 1st week of November I manage to get 1 or 2 good ones that I can reach.
Below,is a photograph of just 7 of my nests acquired over the years. I have 23 more like these as well for a total of 30. Most belong to our Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata); although I have 3 from the German Yellowjacket (Vespula germanica).
Here is a "Mega-nest" which proudly hangs above some of my collection drawer stacks. It is the "flagship" of my nest collection. My largest nest ever found and a crowning achievement in insect architecture. It would have contained a veritable city at the height of the season. Probably some 600 individuals.
A friend of mine who has his own pest control business was told about this enormous nest hanging in a white pine tree in front of some home owners picture window. The people were watching it all summer as it grew in size. Finally, he was given a call to remove it as there was a concern that children might see it and mess around with it. The home owners did not want that liability. Upon, seeing it for himself my friend promptly called me and asked if I would like owning the largest nest which he had "ever seen in 16 years" of service.
So, needless to say here it is and in perfect condition. Collected in mid-October 1990.
It is the height of 2 basketballs (placed one on top the other).
With winter settling in I can finally get back to bringing up assorted topics of insect related interest. I find insect architecture fascinating in its myriad forms so I will continue on with a few other oddities that I have encountered over the years. Below, is the mud nest of the common black and yellow mud dauber wasp (Sceliphron caementarium) of Eastern North America.
There are some 30 other species of Sceliphron that occur throughout the world, though in appearance and habits they are quite similar to this species. This hardened mud nest is created one cell at a time over many trips afield where soft mud is available. A glob of mud is scooped up by the wasp and carried to the nest site in the mouth and jaws. Once there the mud is fashioned into concentric rings (one on top the other); eventually forming a hardened cylindrical tube with a top opening.
With the completion of the tube the wasp then sets out on the hunt. These wasps are specialist hunters in that they prey upon spiders. Upon finding a suitable quarry the spider is paralyzed with a sting and brought back to the tube nest where it is promptly stuffed into the tube. After many more trips afield the tube is finally packed full of paralyzed spiders and a single egg is then laid by the wasp on the spiders. The tube or if you will "cell" is then capped with a mud lid for safety and protection.
The process is then repeated all over again. These are very industrious creatures that seem to labor tirelessly for the good of the species. The adults take only enough time out to fuel themselves with a little nectar and --- its back to work. This particular example is a 5 tube/cell nest. Four of the cells have been capped and one still remains available for more paralyzed tenants. All of this work is done solely by the females of the species (to the best of my knowledge). I have seen nests with upwards of 10 to 12 cells which is just amazing to think about.
One thing, about trying to collect these kinds of nests is that it is very hard to remove them without them crumbling apart or otherwise becoming hopelessly damaged.
Here is an extraordinarily rare find in Insect architecture.
A natural "wild collected" open air Honeybee nest.
This fabulous waxen 1/2 nest of the Honeybee (Apis mellifera); was discovered by some friends of mine in back of a local bowling alley in 1985. It was partially encrusted in a chain link fence (in back of the building). The other half of the nest on the opposing side was "melded" into an extensive complex of wild grapevines growing all over the fencing. With my best skills and a good pair of gardening clippers I carefully cut away at the grapevine branches until I was able to solidly free 1/2 of the nest... in its entirety.
The opposing side however, was so encrusted into the chain link fence that my attempts to retrieve it as well were met with failure; as the other half simply crumbled to bits with every effort. This half of the nest measures 17 inches long and 12 inches in width.
Open air nests like this are very unusual finds as honeybees prefer open hollows in trees or even caves to make their nests. Such places afford them protection from the elements and from marauding animal thieves who would plunder their home for its sweet reward and protein rich larvae.
This is an Mid-season sized nest of the German yellowjacket (Vespula germanica). It is the size of a large grapefruit but it still has a ways to go ! By seasons end maybe football sized on average.
This was discovered in a very "full" garage and largely went un-noticed until things started getting cleared out and somebody yelled "Run for the hills..." My exterminator friend had to don his "bee suit" and treat the offending nest before carefully scraping it from the inner wall. Due to the large number of small cells within; the nest contained approximately 80-100 live individuals defending their right to live there.
Normally, this species either nests between wall voids of structures or cavities within the ground (such as abandoned animal nests); which they further excavate and enlarge. Generally, nests of this species and related yellowjackets are seldom seen much less ever retrieved...
Finally, I offer for your viewing pleasure another extraordinarily rare piece of insect architecture seldom ever seen much less encountered...
Ok, now that you have seen the picture what is this waxen globule and to what creature does it belong?
Ok, you have had your minute to ponder...
This is the waxen nest of a Bombus species! A bumblebee. These are to be found underground usually in some open cavity or burrow long abandoned. This waxen mass contains larval cells, cells for bees about to emerge, and honey cells or "pots" for food storage. This one is the size of a large grapefruit and is probably about near as big as they get; as bumblebee colonies generally remain small as compared to other social insects.