The Social Wasps

Chris Alice Kratzer’s guide to The Social Wasps of North America is out and about. If you’re interested in the social wasps, and I know you are, you should really look this one up. Kratzer uses an interesting digital graphic style of illustration: it’s generic, or should I say platonic, packing a lot of information into the image. Remember, each species may have three castes: queen, workers (female), and male. (A field guide using photos is going to have a lot problems covering all these variations.) And among these there may be more than one color form — melanic, ferruginous, xanthic, etc. — often based on regional distribution, but with some inevitable geographic overlap. To represent this, individual illustrations of the wasps are divided in half; the author suggests using a small mirror to get a whole body sense. Have never seen this trick before.

Kratzer also rates the species with a “field ID rating” from easy to cryptic. Identification can, indeed, be tricky. As an example: Polistes fuscatus, which iNaturalist calls the “Dark Paper Wasp.” (Above is one of my pictures from early June, spotted in Princeton, NJ.) Well, they’re pretty dark around here, but they’re not all dark across their large range. Kratzer goes with the name “Imposter Paper Wasp” because they look like several other species. There are 8 pages on this one species in this book. (Below is another of my sightings from the Bronx, NY, from late June.)

Because it covers North America, the majority of the species in this book are south of the U.S. Tropics win when it comes to insect species diversity.

Coral Paper Wasp (Polistes exclamans), which iNaturalist calls Guinea Paper Wasp. Rare around here. I’ve seen two of these in Bush Terminal Park (July)and this one in Green-Wood (early October).

The social wasps make up a tiny percentage of wasps, but because they may sting to protect their nests, they’re the ones most often noticed. They’re the ones who give wasps a bad name. But remember, it’s our blundering upon them that causes the reaction.

Yellowjackets streaming in and out of an underground nest is a sign. Heed it.

I do so by observing from a few feet away. They’ve never bugged me.


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