Tagged: hymenoptera

Empty House

Hornet's Nest
Hornet’s Nest

My parents are remodeling their house, which is one of those processes that will, invariably lead to all kinds of surprises. This is a close up of a very large hornet’s nest that they found inside of one of the south walls — I’ve keyed it out as Vespa.

It’s always shocking to me that insects that people think of as dangerous and aggressive, like these hornets, can establish themselves next to humans and remain unnoticed for years before evidence of their existence is even discovered.

Why I love wasps (and you should too!)

Wasp Portrait
Image from Stuart Williams

I was asked to talk about wasps over on tumblr, and I put so much effort into the resulting post that I figured I’d better cross-post it over here, too.

The fear of wasps and bees is an incredibly common phobia. For anyone who’s ever been stung by a yellow jacket or a hornet, this probably seems like a perfectly reasonable thing. Being stung hurts, and some people can have life-threatening allergic reactions to stings. And unlike bees, wasps don’t get a lot of positive press. They don’t make honey, after all, and they’re not the insects that we think of when we think of agricultural pollination.

But wasps are probably some of the most important insects in the world. If we somehow managed to remove all of the wasps from the world, it wouldn’t be inconvenient or a small ecological disaster, but the world would basically stop working.

This post is going to get long, but hopefully by the end of it, I can convince you that wasps are the best animals ever.

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How to appease wasps (long enough to take a picture)

Working with wasps can be a little tricky, since they’re very active animals that can fly, sting and bite, and they don’t take direction well. So, I’ve tried a number of approaches while working with them in the studio. The most common advice that I’ve seen online is to chill insects in the fridge for a few minutes. While it’s true that this will make them lethargic, they’ll also often adopt very unnatural-looking poses, with splayed limbs and crooked antennae … and as soon as they warm up, you’re back to square one. Similarly, some insects will freeze when startled (as will snakes, frogs and some lizards — if you’re taking herp photos), but I am pretty sure that startling wasps is not a great idea.

Instead, I use two main techniques — the first is just to place the insect under a drinking glass and let them get out all of their energy.  Eventually, the bug I’m trying to work with will stop running and flying around erratically, and will sit still long enough or me to get a photo or two in. (In the case of dragonflies, I do basically the same thing by setting up a perch in a closed white box, then giving them a few minutes to bumble around before landing — they’ll usually end up right where I wanted them.) Sometimes, however, this technique fails, at which point I move on to my second method — bribery.

Black and Yellow Mud Dauber
Black and Yellow Mud Dauber

Insects are pretty good at sitting still while they eat, and they’ll often pause while approaching potential food, which gives me the opportunity to get in some shots, while their little minds are elsewhere.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/18, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

I just really like paper wasps, okay?

Don’t judge me.

Common Paper Wasp
Common Paper Wasp

I find this picture incredibly hilarious. No, wasp, stinging the paper won’t actually solve your problems. In fact, since your problems are mostly that some large, obnoxious primate has captured you, shoved you in a box and keeps flashing bright lights in your face, it might actually make them worse, because the large, obnoxious primate finds your behavior charming.

Polistes exclamans, at least I think so … feel free to correct me if she’s really something else.

I am not sure what it says about my apartment that this is the fourth species of paper wasp that I’ve seen outside. (Polistes dominula is coming to a blog near you, as soon as I can catch one!) Possibly it says that my apartment is awesome. Or full of caterpillars.

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens with 36mm extension tube on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/18, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

It’s Finally Happened…

… there is now a large, annoyed wasp loose in my apartment. I probably need to catch her before the kitten does, since the kitten (a) does not know about wasp stings and (b) probably won’t be gentle with my photo subject.

Paper Wasp
Paper Wasp

I think that this is Polistes metricus, although it could be P. fuscatus. I don’t know. It’s a big damn red wasp. That my kitten wants to eat.

Photo Details

Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/14, 1/125 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

What do we say to the god of bee stings?

Long-Horned Bee
Long-Horned Bee

Not today.

Okay, lame references to Game of Thrones aside, does anyone know what this bee is? I tried keying it out, but was very quickly intimidated by words like “fovea” and “vertex” … so I gave up to go make myself tea.

EDIT: John Ascher over at BugGuide IDed this for me as the long-horned bee Svastra obliqua. Have I gushed about how awesome BugGuide is? Because it really, really is.

Photo Details

Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/20, 1/160 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Paper Wasp

I think my whitebox is making me stupid.

Paper Wasp
Paper Wasp

I’m fairly certain that this is the Apache Wasp, Polistes apachus, but I’d welcome any alternate IDs.


Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/16, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Honey Bee

I’m pretty sure that most normal people, upon finding that a bee has flown into their house, do not spend thirty minutes trying to catch it in order to take its picture.

Honey Bee
Honey Bee

She followed me home when I was bringing the dog back from her morning walk, so I caught her, then baited her with honey to take a few pictures before letting her go. Judging from those corbiculae, she had better places to be.


Photo Details
Konica Minolta Pro Automatic 35mm F2.8 Lens reverse-mounted on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/22, 1/100 sec
Diffuse flash in whitebox
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Parasitoid Wasp

Most of the time, when I find ichneumon wasps, they buzz away before I have the chance to bring out my camera, much less get a good photo. This makes me sad, because parasitoid wasps are probably some of my favorite organisms ever. So, I was pretty excited when I found this girl, who was completely ignoring me while I look a few quick shots.

Female Ichneumon Wasp
Female Ichneumon Wasp

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 100 at f/10, 1/100 sec
Diffuse Flash
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Female Ichneumon Wasp
Female Ichneumon Wasp

Photo Details
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro Lens on a Canon T1i Rebel
ISO 400 at f/5.0, 1/100 sec
Ambient Light
Image editing in Adobe Photoshop CS5

Also, it’s probably worth pointing out that these are both pretty much exactly the same photo, just with different lighting — the first one is using flash to illuminate the subject and background, while the second one is using sunlight behind the subject to create a more dramatic silhouette. (And showing off the veins in her wings.)