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Spring wasps may have a lot on their minds

March 21, 2016


Compared to crocuses and daffodils and common green bottle flies, wasps seem to be among spring’s conspicuous late bloomers. But this makes perfect sense when you think about it—why should wasps lift so much as an antennae before breakfast is on the table. Being fashionably late is probably one the wasp’s important evolutionary adaptations.

And now that there is an ample availability of both pollen and nectar from early blooming flowers like snowdrops and crocuses, along with an abundant population of buzzing flies, wasps are finally—and slowly—making their appearance.

If you’ve ever wanted to pet a wasp this is your chance


Today (March 21) I saw my first wasp of the year at Cambie Street and 17th Avenue; it was a distinctive yellow jacket. Last year, my first wasp sighting was of the brown paper variety and in 2014 it was another yellow jacket, observed just off Hemlock Street.

Inside of a week, the wasp that I saw today will be incredibly sensitive. Violations of its immediate space will elicit angry buzzing, evasive flight and the threat of stinging.

But as with previous early spring wasps, today it wasn’t aggressive; it just seemed terribly lethargic. There was absolutely no fight in it yet and few signs of life, save the tentative flick of an antennae or the flexing of a wing.

It was so benign that I was able to photograph it using an extreme closeup mode, getting within a centimetre of it—positioning the camera…focusing…and snapping the photograph. In fact I did this no fewer than 15 times from four different angles.

The wasp was aware of the camera’s closeness—it flicked its antennae in response to the movement but it didn’t otherwise move. It didn’t even buzz.

As to why early springs wasps behave so mildly, I can only guess that they don’t know how else to behave yet.


I’m thinking that the wasp, with its crinkled wings, was a newborn female worker, freshly hatched and making her first foray into the world.

Everything to such a creature would be brand new, including itself.

And seeing as the wasp queen gives birth but doesn’t appear to give her offspring any pointers about “waspness”, it appears to be up to the newborn wasps themselves to figure thing out—and quickly.

I imagine the newborn wasp as a kind of sophisticated jet fighter fresh off the assembly line. In fact, in my metaphorical view, she’s both the plane and the pilot. She’s born with all the instruction manuals needed to figure out how to fly herself and operate all her critical systems. She just has to sit down and take the time to read and understand them.

It’s only a guess on my part but I think that’s what today’s wasp was busy doing—reading those manuals—learning exactly what it means to be a wasp. Click the images to enlarge them.

From → South Cambie, wasps

  1. Beautiful pictures! We once found a queen inside my grandmother’s house. She was huge and was equipped with a nightmare inducing stinger the size of a regular wasp. As my family tried to relocate her, all that could be seen of me was my flying hair as I ran upstairs.


    • Wow. That’s an image to conjure with! It’s amazing to be surrounded by so much life that is at once completely familiar and totally alien.

      To my eye, yellow jacket wasps are remarkable-looking creatures. They are also a near constant presence if one is binning for returnable containers. Soon they’ll be buzzing around recycling bins and by the fall they’ll be frantically trying to get at the sugar in beer, pop and juice containers. I don’t mind or fear them a bit. I’m respectful. In 11 years I have never been stung by one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Ben permalink

    I believe that this is a Vespula germanica queen, one of my personal favorite nonnative species of wasp. Early in the season, most wasp queens are relatively docile. You can even hand tame Polistes species by hand-feeding them (since they recognize each other via facial recognition).
    Young wasps often stay in the nest and take care of the babies until they are old enough to leave. I believe that Yellow Jacket workers appear in the summer, while Polistes workers appear in the spring.

    Liked by 1 person

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