Finding Common Ground

Reminder:  You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full-screen image.

The other day, while I was taking a walk in Sabino Canyon, I noticed a lot of insect activity around a large acacia bush.  It didn’t take me long to realize that there were dozens of paper wasps flying around and landing on the bush.  Curiosity aroused, I took a closer look.  The bush was filled with seed pods and the wasps were obviously attracted to them, because they were landing on and lingering on the pods, sometimes for many seconds at a time.  When I looked even more closely, I realized what the wasps were doing.  They were using their strong jaws to strip plant fibers from the pods, almost certainly to be used as building material in their nests.  The wasps would chew these fibers into a paste and then apply that paste to their nests where it would harden into a kind of paper maché.

I noticed that there were several species of paper wasps on the bush, all engaged in the same activity.

Here’s a Polistes flavus, a large, nearly all-yellow paper wasp.

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Another photo of the same individual.

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Another species, Polistes comanchus, was also visiting the bush and doing the same thing.

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Commanchus is a very large wasp, perhaps the biggest of the paper wasps.  It is also among the most timid.  None of these insects was thrilled by my presence and all of them took evasive action as I approached them to take their pictures.  But, the commanchus, even though it is the largest of the paper wasps that I see around here, is the quickest to take flight as I approach it.  Getting a picture of this species is a real chore.

Finally, an image of a third species, smaller than the other two, but also busily engaged in harvesting plant fibers.

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Three different species of paper wasps, all engaged in the same activity.  There is at least one other paper wasp species that I know of in Sabino Canyon.  Why would four different species of wasp coexist in essentially the same environment?  A good question, I think.  Each of them probably occupies a unique ecological niche and the preferred habitat may vary slightly for each species.  Whatever, I’m struck by the diversity of these insects — who obviously have their differences as well as things in common.

Pictures taken with a Canon 5D iii, 180 f3.5L Macro Lens assisted by Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite, M setting.  The first two images shot at ISO 125, f11 @ 1/160.  The third image shot at ISO 125, f13 @ 1/160.  The fourth image shot at ISO 100, f10 @ 1/160.

One response to “Finding Common Ground”

  1. Liesl Kii says :

    Good find today, Steven. Interesting wasp activity.

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