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Those of you who follow this blog regularly know that I have a real affinity for paper wasps. They are beautiful, colorful, graceful, display interesting behaviors, and are fun to photograph. So, what’s not to like? Over the past year I’ve photographed numerous individuals representing at least four species of these fascinating insects.
Yesterday, I found something new. I was walking around in Sabino Canyon when I found some small plants in bloom that were being frequented by several wasps. Members of at least two species that I knew well were present. I was mildly interested in photographing them and began following the insects around for that purpose when suddenly, something new flew into my field of vision. It was a large paper wasp that was decked out like no wasp that I’d seen before. It was entirely red — even its eyes were deep red — and it was big, as large as any paper wasp species that I’d observed. I took some photos. This morning I returned to the site where I’d observed the wasp, hoping to see it again. Almost immediately, I spotted either the same wasp or one of her sisters and I spent the next 15 minutes chasing it around among the bushes. She was quite shy, considering that she is a big wasp with an imposing stinger. As soon as she noticed me approaching her, she’d fly about 10 feet away. I followed her for a relatively long time, only getting a few photographs. Quite demure is our big red wasp!
Of course, once I’d photographed her I wanted to know exactly what I’d captured. Obviously, she’s a paper wasp, but what species?
Paper wasps are all members of the genus Polistes and there are a couple of dozen or so species of that genus that inhabit various parts of the United States. I did some research on line and in my limited insect literature and it was frustrating. The available literature isn’t all that informative, suggesting that I may be one of a relatively small group of people who cares about different paper wasp species.
That said, I discovered a species of paper wasp, Polistes carolinus, that looks exactly like the individual that I’d photographed. At first I thought I’d nailed it. But, there is a problem. The very limited literature describes the species as being one that inhabits the southeastern United States. There’s no suggestion that this wasp has migrated to the desert Southwest.
So, this one remains a mystery. For the time being, we’ll just call her a very pretty albeit timid big, red wasp.
Photos taken with a Canon 5Diii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens, assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, “M” setting, ISO 125, f13 @ 1/160.