Monday, November 02, 2009

Five thousand, two hundred and eight photos of wasps

Yesterday I took a detour from my pumpkin search, and dropped in to visit the Strathcona Community Gardens. Even now, in November, flowers were blooming. And the wasps were busy:

Red Hot Poker, or Torch Lily.

The wasps were so focussed on getting the last bit of sweet nectar, that they allowed me to come quite close.

This one was in a position I have not seen before; sticking straight out, upside-down, and immobile. At first I thought it was dead, but when I touched the stem, it wriggled out of the flower and flew away.

I ran into problems when I went to double-check my identification. (Common paper wasp, I thought.) But something didn't add up. The antennae, at least on the one with its head in the open, have elbows. Like bees' antennae do. But the face is a wasp face.

The paper wasps on BugGuide have yellow or orange antennae, and they curve. These were black.

Back to the beginning; family Vespidae. BugGuide has 5,208 photos. I looked at them all.

The German wasps that I found after a while have proper black, elbowed antennae, and a similar face. But they are found on the east coast. And they have black spots on the abdomen. Mine did not.

Vespula vulgaris, the common yellowjacket, did have black antennae. And sometimes they bent at the elbows. And the face was similar. (The face pattern can vary; there's some interesting research on that - make-up for wasps? - so similar is good enough.) And there are no spots on the sides of the abdomen. Range? All over, including BC.

But look up at my photos; see the length of the wing? They're short, leaving the tail end of the abdomen exposed. The ones on BugGuide mostly have wings greater than the length of the body. Mostly. Maybe these are worn down; it is the end of the season, after all.

I think I'm settling on Vv. I could be wrong. It's going to take an awful lot more work before I'm sure of my flying stripy things.

Update: Neil, in the comments, says that the first and third are bees, European honeybees. I think he's right; I was assuming they were all the same species, hence my confusion.


  1. Middle one is Vespa I think. The other two photos look like European Honeybees to me!

  2. Could be. There are beehives on the other side of the gardens. I did look at bees, but then focussed on the face. Would bees and wasps be foraging together on the same plant at the same time?

    I thought the first and the second photos were the same insect; I had followed it with the camera as it moved around the flower. Maybe they switched on me while the camera processed the first.

    Looking at the photos again, I see that the wing venation is different; so they did switch places.

    Thanks for the help!

  3. It is really hard to make good identifications, but fun. Thanks to helpful readers we get it even better. - Margy


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