A journey into the eyes and mind of a naturalist.

Making Paper

Humans think we are the great inventors of the animal kingdom, but when you take a closer look we are really just copying what nature has been doing for millions of year.  Nature has animals and plants that have been using chemical weapons, solar power, long distance communication, electricity, and even language for millions of years, even before our ancient ancestors started running around instead of climbing.

Wasps have a special skill that even humans did not develop until more recent history, the ability to make paper.  Wasps and North American hornets (which are actually wasps) make paper out of semi-digested wood.  They use this paper to build their nests to raise their young.

The Paper Wasp, as its name suggests, uses wood to make its nest too.  These are the wasp nest that you may often see hanging in the eaves of a house or under a deck.

Wasps are closely related to ants.  Like ants wasps have a sting that can send even the most brave (or stupid) of us running for the hills.  Unlike Honey Bees, Wasps and Hornets have a stinger without a barb.  This means that a single Wasp can sting you multiple times to defend itself.  Speaking from experience, it is not something I recommend.

I found this Paper Wasp and several of its sisters foraging for wood particles on my outdoor teak table.  Every couple of minutes a new wasp would land and extract their load and then return to the construction site of the nest.

Like ants,  wasps also have a strong set of mandibles for biting.  Paper Wasps use their mandible to carefully strip small pieces of wood from my table.  The wood is then gathered up into a small ball and carried off to the nest site.   Large nests may take hundreds or thousands of trips to complete.  Next time you knock down a pesky nest take a moment and reflect on the amount of work and skill it takes to make such an intricate structure, then remember that it was done by an insect, then remember that insect also has a barbless stinger and it’s not afraid to use it!

Wasps, hornets and bees all have the contrasting yellow and black coloration that serves as a warning to other animals and potential predators.  It is their way of saying “mess with me and you are going to get hurt”  Much in the same way that humans use bright colors to announce hazards or danger nature has figured out a way to say “WATCH OUT!!”.

And she’s off!!!

Up Next:  Heavenly Bodies

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5 responses

  1. kathy lane

    Jimmy,
    Loved it!! such a delightful & informative read!
    Love ya,
    Mom

    May 22, 2011 at 15:21

  2. wow! and what beautiful close ups!

    July 11, 2011 at 12:43

  3. Matt

    nice shots!
    I love it
    do you have bigger pics of that wasp ?

    January 13, 2013 at 11:51

    • That is the closest shot I have. I have better resolution files of all of those pictures and many more!

      January 13, 2013 at 12:15

      • Matt

        i am interested in doing that wasp in CGI it would be awesome if i could have a higher resolution file.
        Do you mind ?

        January 13, 2013 at 12:19

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