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Hanging Out At the Mall

      There are always problems with anthropomorphizing non-humans. Just think of those cute cat and dog “shaming” videos where animals are just being true to their nature but we humans attach reasons and feelings behind their behavior.  Still sometimes, even insects seem to display some “human” characteristics.

I thought about this a few years ago in autumn when I was picking the last of the okra.   Though an occasional brown paper wasp was often seen in the garden, suddenly, as I was disturbing the plants, I was surrounded by more than one wasp.  As they did not seem particularly aggressive, I kept on picking.  However, when the same thing happened the next day, I began to look more closely at the okra plants.  There to my horror were two clusters of about seven or more wasps on the underside of two leaves.  After getting over my shock, I began to observe their behavior.

wasps2

Every once in a while a new wasp would fly into the group.  The other wasps would rush to the “newcomer” and start feeling its body with their antennae.  At first I wondered whether the original group was trying to kill the newcomer, but realized that perhaps this was their way of communicating.  What was going on?

A quick Google search revealed that the behavior was common.  Stephen Bambara and Michael Waldvogel, Extension Entomologists with North Carolina Cooperative Extension say: “… paper wasps show types of swarming behavior during the cool and cold times of the year when there are no nests and no young larvae to protect.  During the fall, this behavior is connected with mating and is the wasp version of “boy meets girl.”  Male wasps look for the best place to “hang out” and attract females.  On these warm days during the fall, the future queens become active and fly about.  Dozens or hundreds might be seen around the upper stories of a building, transmission tower or other tall structures.” Were the male wasps that I was observing just acting like teenage boys and “hanging out at the mall,” waiting to find some cute girls?

Unfortunately for the male wasp, that is where the comparison to its human counterpart ends. At some time after mating, the males die and the impregnated females seek shelter for the winter.

Carolyn Bush

 

 

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