Last week I set a conundrum: what do these photos represent? Actually, it wasn’t much of a conundrum, since Caroline got it within five minutes of my posting. I shall have to come up with some more difficult ones for my knowledgeable readers. She was correct (and others confirmed her suggestion). They are the nests of potter wasps, who regularly build in our pigeonnier.
I should explain that our pigeonnier is attached to our house and our bedroom leads into it, so its upper room acts as a small study. We were completely unaware of these creatures’ activities in there until we found some empty ‘pots’ stuck on behind the curtain. Further investigation revealed more of them attached behind books in the bookcase. We discovered yet more in a drawer, which lacks a handle and thus has a hole in it. We very rarely open that drawer, so they went undisturbed.
This year, for the first time, we have heard the young wasps breaking out of their nests. I tracked down intermittent buzzing to a cardboard box on top of the tall bookcase and, yes, there were the nests. I have yet to see one hatch out, though.
My internet researches tell me that potter wasps are the most diverse subfamily (Eumenidae, about 3,200 species) of the wasp family, Vespidae, which number about 4,500 species altogether. They also vary considerably in appearance. I haven’t been able to get a shot of ours but they are elongated and brownish in colour: quite unlike the other species of wasp around here.
Most of the potter wasps build their nests out of mud made by mixing earth with water. They are quite exquisite constructions, each one capped with a little lid. It must take a lot of work and persistence. The wasp lays one egg in each pot. To feed the resulting larva until it pupates, it collects and paralyses caterpillars and other grubs, which it immures with the egg. The adult wasp can take up to a year to emerge and then feeds on nectar. Potter wasps are usually solitary and do not live in colonies.
I had neither heard of nor seen potter wasps before we lived here. These fascinating insects don’t bother us at all, so I am inclined to leave them in peace in our pigeonnier. I do, though, take slight exception to their leaving muddy marks on my books.
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