The Mother of Her Country

In the garden at the Geo. Washington Birthplace Monument in Virginia, I was delighted to discover this queen Southern Yellowjacket (Vespula squamose).Here she shows how she gets that pollen on the top of her thorax.The workers of this species are more traditionally yellow and black, so this big orange queen must really stand out among them. But that’s not all. A “facultative temporary social parasite,” she may set up her own nest or, more likely, she will usurp a nest of Eastern Yellowjackets (Vespula maculifrons). She kills the host maculifrons queen and adopts or enslaves the workers, who then raise her squamose young. V. vidua and V. flavopilos have also been known to be parasitized in this way by these queens. As the host species ages out/dies off, the squamose take over the nest completely.

The species doesn’t seem to range up here to NYC, but it does extend as far south as Guatemala. In tropical climes — including Florida — the nests can be perennial, much larger, and have multiple queens. The species is vigorous in defense of their nests. They’re also carnivores, but the queens will take nectar.

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