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May 2, 2017 11:06 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Paper Wasps

This paper wasp queen began building a paper nest last week, depositing a single egg, visible here, in each cell. MIKE BOTTINI
May 2, 2017 11:25 AM

National Weather Service data recorded at Islip for April 2017 showed an average temperature of 53 degrees, four degrees above “normal” for that month, and 3.7 inches of rain, which was 0.7 inches below normal. Still, it was enough precipitation such that the adage “April showers bring May flowers” will hold true.Our flowering dogwood’s large white blossoms have opened; the white, urn-like flowers of highbush blueberry and our much less showy American holly flowers have caught the attention of hungry bees; and the oak’s male flowers are about to burst and release pollen. Most of our native plants will be fully dressed in fresh green leaves by the end of May.

Jim Duryea reported seeing a large school of alewives in the shallow water near the shoreline of Big Fresh Pond at the end of April. These would be the mature adult fish that recently swam in from North Sea Harbor on an incoming tide to spawn. Big Fresh Pond remains the largest alewife spawning site on Long Island.

April ended with a couple of very warm days. The Islip weather station recorded a high of 77 degrees on Friday, April 28, a reading that is 15 degrees above normal for that date. The station in Central Park recorded a high of 85 degrees for that same day, 19 degrees above normal.

Ocean water temps briefly made it over the 50-degree line last week before dropping back to 47 degrees. Warm air over the cool ocean made for lots of foggy days, a trend that will continue through May.

The warm days brought out lots of paper wasps. These are the fertilized females, or queens, that mated at the end of last summer and survived the winter, and they were busy seeking suitable sites for their papery nests in which they lay their eggs. Suitable sites more often than not are man-made structures, such as building eaves. One started to weave its tiny, cup-shaped cells on a piece of garden fabric in my yard, and the single eggs laid in each cell were clearly visible.

The papery-looking nests are constructed of fibers peeled from wood, paper and plant stems, and bonded with a substance that the wasp regurgitates.

The eggs hatch in two weeks, after which the queen is kept busy hunting for various types of caterpillars and feeding them to her larvae. The larvae are fully developed two weeks after hatching and are ready to enter their pupal stage, prompting the queen to cover and seal the cells with more papery material. The larvae emerge from pupation three weeks later as sterile adult females, or “workers.”

The queen next commences adding new cells to the nest with help from the workers, who also hunt and supply food for the queen, while she focuses on filling each new cell with an egg. This continues through the summer, with the workers taking on the additional task of caring for the larvae.

Sometime in late summer, the social structure of the hive breaks down, and the sterile females cease working. A few of the last batch of larvae develop into fertile adult females and males, and they mate. The fertilized females will become next spring’s queens; the males, along with this year’s queen and workers, will not survive the winter.

Although they can be annoying, paper wasps are harmless unless disturbed. And they do serve an important ecological function as predators of small insect larvae.

I just wish they would do a better job gleaning the caterpillars off my chard and kale plants in summer.

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