December 12, 2017

German Wasp (Vespula germanica)

Now at this time of year, I realise that this may be a risky statement but I love wasps and you should too.

The slightly aggressive, rather clumsy wasps you see in the autumn in the UK are a pale, stunted shadow of their former selves. Earlier in the year, the workers scour the area around their nest for insect prey to feed to the colony’s developing larvae. Gardeners should be particularly glad of the amount of grubs and caterpillars collected and consumed by this voracious army of sisters, for until late summer they’re all sterile female workers, born of a single queen.

All summer the workers either feed on flower nectar or ingest the juices from the meaty prey items they regurgitate to feed the larvae, in return the larvae secrete a super sweet saliva to reward the workers. Once the colony has matured, and there are no more larvae present, it’s this highly nutritious substance which they try to replace, whether it’s our food or drink, the sticky contents of our bins or the fruit in our orchards.

Ultimately, although they’re a nuisance, they’re really just a bit desperate, so waving your arms about or swatting at them just makes things worse. Try to be calm when they’re around and be observant of their habits and behaviour, then you should be able to stay sting free – you may even get to appreciate them for the interesting and beneficial insects they are.

Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)

Sooner or later I’m going to run out of beautiful posterboy species but definitely not just yet.

Azure Damselflies are pretty special beasts. The males are a piercing blue and the females a slightly less predator attention grabbing green, but for me the amazing thing is how slender they are. They dash around on a blur of inadequately flimsy wings with chopper pilot bravado, and at any moment I almost expect them to simply break apart with the effort of it all.

I filmed a large group of perhaps twenty or so pairs laying their eggs (ovipositing) in tandem. Each male clasped to a female’s thorax as she dipped the tip of her abdomen below the pond’s surface, leaving a single egg with each splash. Apparently they prefer to oviposit ‘en masse’ as a defense strategy, employing the same technique as other tasty looking creatures by presenting a confusingly large number of individuals.

So, options paralysis, the ‘slacker’ affliction which means that when you’re presented with a multitude of choices you inevitably choose none, clearly works to some species’ advantage elsewhere in the animal kingdom.