Wasps Love Sweet Treats!
Wasps in the adult stage can’t digest solid food. They feast on sugary liquids. This lovely European Paper Wasp female worker has just arrived at one of my wasp feeders, and is enjoying a mix of fermented apple soaking in flat (non-bubbly) ginger ale. She’ll take much of the liquid back to the nest to feed other workers and drones. She may give some of the solid food to the larvae, if there are any left, who convert it into sweet liquid and feed it back to the wasp(s). I took this photo series in August so most of the larvae have already cocooned and hatched. Some met a dastardly end — but that’s another story.
She moves in a bit, her black jaws or mandibles clearly visible as she scrapes and nibbles the apple. If annoyed she can nip ferociously at intruding insects but makes no attempt to sting. Similarly I’ve seen the ladies take out their temper on the wasp drones, who crouch down submissively even though they’re larger than the females. I have never seen the drones nip or act aggressively toward the females.
This little beauty is from another nest, not the one I’m usually photographing / filming … she’s well aware of me but shows no alarm as I adjust camera position. I move slowly and speak to her quietly. Paper wasps have strong face recognition skills which helps them distinguish the harmful from the harmless.
Now a yellowjacket wasp joins the feast. No problem – there’s enough for all. The yellow jacket, in foreground, is easily distinguished from the European paper wasp – most obviously she has black antennae while the European has orange antennae. The antennae are multi-purpose tools which can be used to identify other wasps, explore environmental elements and read the information they impart by feel. I’ve also seen the wasps use their antennae as “hands” to shape and pat individual cells while building the nest.
Yellowjackets tend to fly like little buzzing bullets, zipping around with legs tucked in. They love teasing the Europeans by dive-bombing the nest. The European paper wasps have an elegant manner of flight, rising more slowly and flying with hind legs dangling. These insects most commonly resemble “faeries” because in flight they look exactly like little people with wings, as sunshine creates a golden glow around them.