It's time for the Monday edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust!

It's time for the Monday edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust!

It's time for the Monday edition of #BenInNature presented by our friends at Carter Bank & Trust!

I'm back from vacation and I've decided to do a little something different this week! There are a whole slew of wasps, bees, and hornets out, and a lot of folks have reached out asking if they've spotted the dreaded "murder hornet," more accurately known as the Asian giant hornet (Vespa mandarinia). So far, these hornets have only been found in the Pacific Northwest, so they're not a concern for us here in Virginia. However, I thought it might be beneficial to spend a week looking at some of the stinging critters you ARE likely to see in this neck of the woods.

We'll kick things off with the umbrella paper wasp (genus Polistes). These wasps get their common name from the structure of their nests, which hang down and are shaped like umbrellas with the cells of the nest exposed at the bottom. The nests are constructed from a papery substance made from a mix of saliva and wood fibers. Nests are created when a lone female (known as a "foundress") begins building the nest, starting with a petiole (a short stalk that serves as the connection point) and growing as cells are added in a hexagon pattern. The female lays eggs and brings food to the larvae (in the form of delicious chewed-up caterpillars!). The first generation of new wasps are exclusively female, and they help the foundress build and support the nest as it grows.

After a couple months of growth, the nest switches into a reproductive phase, and the new wasps born from the nest are males and females who will disperse and mate. The females have special fat stores that allow them to overwinter and create their own nests the following year. Once the males and future foundresses have dispersed, the social structure of the nest begins to fall apart; female workers are no longer replaced when they die off and the nest declines rapidly.

Paper wasps aren't all that popular as they love to build their nests near human habitations. While they aren't particularly aggressive, they do have a painful sting and will defend their nests if humans come too close and disturb them. However, these wasps eat a significant number of caterpillars, so they're quite beneficial if you keep a garden!

ABOUT #BenInNature
Social distancing can be difficult, but it presents a great opportunity to become reacquainted with nature. In this series of posts, Administrator of Science Ben Williams ventures outdoors to record a snapshot of the unique sights that can be found in the natural world. New updates are posted Monday - Friday, with previous posts highlighted on the weekends. This series of posts is made possible thanks to the support of VMNH Corporate Partner Carter Bank & Trust (

If you discover something in nature that you would like help identifying, be sure to message us right here on Facebook with a picture (please include location and date of picture) and we'll have our experts help you identify it!

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