Last summer (2013) was the worst summer ever for wasps around my apiary. But I digress!
I regularly spotted what looked like bees flying around my chimney stack. Since, 2 stories up inside my loft they were not causing a problem, I resolved to take a closer look during the winter when flying would have stopped. So, in early January, I gingerly popped open the loft hatch & peered towards where the chimney stack is located.
I could vaguely make out the shape of a silvery looking blob adjacent to the stack. Plucking up courage, I advanced on the blob! There was no sound and no bees flying around. Phew! But what was it? A bees nest, a wasp nest or a hornet nest. Better retreat and do some research!
They all look different, as you can see from the images I found.
Above on the left is a Hornets nest … in the middle is a Wasp nest … and on the right is a feral Honeybee nest.
Yes, it’s a wasp nest. The nest in my loft (left) definitely matches the wasp nest above (centre) and has the same “swirly” pattern.
Apparently common wasps gather wood fibres locally from weathered wood. This is then softened by chewing and mixing with saliva. The pulp is then used to make combs with cells for brood rearing. The common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) is found in much of Europe, N.America and Eurasia and has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. Wasps don’t reproduce via mating flights like bees. Instead social wasps reproduce between a fertile queen and male wasp; in some cases queens may be fertilised by the sperm of several males. After successfully mating, the male’s sperm cells are stored in a tightly packed ball inside the queen. The sperm cells are kept stored in a dormant state until they are needed the following spring. At a certain time of the year (often around autumn), the bulk of the wasp colony dies away, leaving only the young mated queens alive. During this time they abandon the current year’s nest and find a suitable area to hibernate for the winter.
So after just a little research it was obvious I had a wasp nest in my loft. Fortunately, January was a good time to remove it since there would be nobody at home!
After emerging from hibernation during early summer, the young queens search for a suitable nesting site. On finding a location for their colony, the queen constructs a basic wood fibre nest roughly the size of a walnut into which she will begin to lay eggs.
The picture (right) shows the nest, removed from the loft and standing on our kitchen table against a 12″ ruler.
This picture (left) shows the bottom of the nest, with internal comb exposed. This is where the queen lays eggs. There are several dead, shrivelled wasps (probably queens) which didn’t make it out of the nest before winter.
Usually, around Autumn, the bulk of the wasp colony dies away, leaving only the young mated queens alive. During this time they leave the nest and find a suitable area to hibernate for the winter. After emerging from hibernation during early summer, the young queens search for suitable nesting sites. When they find a suitable site for a new colony, they construct a basic wood fiber nest roughly the size of a walnut and begin to lay eggs. So they will not colonise an old nest but, they may still return to my loft!
Which brings me full circle.
You may have noticed the strange title of this article!. Well after removing the nest, I climbed a ladder to inspect the area around my chimney. Clearly there must have been a gap for the wasps to get in & out. In fact, there were several gaps caused by 4-5 cracked tiles & that reminded me that early last year we had the aerial man round because we were getting poor TV reception. He’d trampled all over the tiles in the process and assumed no one would ever see the cracked ones hidden behind the chimney. At least he gave a home to a vital force of nature.