I was recently donated a dead wasps nest by some friends who knew I had an interest in these things; it is largely whole, though missing the outer shell and on close inspection is really quite a marvelous construction. Unlike bees, wasps make their nests out of wood – or rather more accurately, paper. Wasps from the hive will search for dead wood in the surrounding area, upon finding a suitable log or tree trunk they will scrape off fragments of wood with their jaws that they chew up into a paste using their saliva. They then carry their mouthful of paste back to the nest in progress where they add their effort to the whole – building up the walls layer by layer – when it is dry the paste becomes a light but strong paper forming the walls, supports and brood cells.
This is the nest side-on, when active it would have hung from the ceiling so that what in the picture is the top would be the bottom-most point, with the wider sections at the top of the nest. It would have also had a thin papery shell around the entire outside, protecting it, with an entrance at the bottom, there are only a few fragments of this left at the base.
This image shows the remains of the paper outer shell, as you can see it was built up in curved scales – you can also see the individual layers of pulp laid down by the worker wasps, they are different colours because they were sourced from different woods.
This is a close-up of the cells; they are the typical hexagonal shape that most bee and wasp species use, this is the most efficient shape for getting the most cells in the least space. These cells are not used to store honey or pollen or any food as bees do, they are solely for raising broods of young in – all laid by the queen. Again it is possible to see the layers of pulp put down by the workers – it is really remarkable to me that a group of thousands of insects could together construct such an elaborate and intelligent design without a plan to refer to and only rudimentary communication between individuals.
Bees nest in cavities and hang each ‘comb’ of their wax nest from the interior walls of their cavity, wasps however have hanging nests (though they sometimes use cavities) and so have horizontal combs rather than vertical – to hold it all together they connect each comb with these struts, made from the same wood pulp as everything else but it is somewhat denser and harder than that used elsewhere as these pillars have to be strong to hold the weight of the nest.
I hope you found this interesting, there will be more ‘Close-Ups’ coming soon.