Polistes fastidiosus (Umbrella Paper Wasp)
These insects are commonly known as ‘paper wasps’ because their nests are made of vegetation similar to paper. The wasps chew up little bits of flaking wood and plant material and mix primarily with cellulose that is coated with a protein-rich oral secretion. The resultant wood pulp is remarkably strong and waterproof. In addition, the little fibrous stalk connecting the nest to the roof is coated with ant-repellent so that ants can’t prey on their larvae.
Paper wasps are social wasps with quite an interesting lifestyle. In Spring a mated queen emerges from the parental nest and starts building a new nest. The queen of the new nest is soon joined by other mated females from the same nest to form a colony. After the queen has started construction of the first hexagonal cell of the nest, the worker females add more concentric circles of cells to enlarge it.
The queen will lay all the eggs while the other females are tasked with building the nest, hunting for food and minding the offspring. The queen lays an egg in the bottom of each cell. When the larvae hatch, the worker females protect them, sometimes aggressively, and feed them. The main food sources for the larvae are chewed up caterpillars.
The males are not much use at hunting, so they are fed by the females until such time as they are needed to mate with and fertilise a female. Then they die.
When a queen dies, the most aggressive female will become the new queen and begin to lay her own eggs. In late summer or autumn, males, unmated females and the founding queen will all die. Mated females will go forth to form colonies of their own.