Written by Joe Ballenger
During the fall, we get a lot of questions about wasps…but not about wasps in nests.
Often, these are from people who work in construction or otherwise around heights. I know the sizing of the pictures below is a little awkward, but they’re sized this way to show the behavior.
I run a house framing crew and each fall i run into this same situation. We have a boom truck on site (crane), and when the boom is high in the air, wasps congregate all along the boom, but especially at the tip. They will swarm all around the boom, more so the higher it gets. As i lower the boom to ground level, the wasps dissipate rather quickly until they are completely gone within 10′ or so of the ground. If i then raise the boom again, the wasps return almost immediately. They hang out wether the machine is running or not. Just wondering what is going on. Also, there is no nest in the boom.
I work in the communication tower industry and every year around late summer to early fall we tower climbers experience a phenomenon. Wasps will swarm up towers. As you can imagine, this can be very disconcerting, however they aren’t aggressive at all while they’re doing this. In 20 years of climbing I’ve never been stung. It appears they are in the mood for love and mating.
There are a lot of misconceptions about this phenomenon though — everything from the wasps being attracted to the RF (radio frequency) to being attracted to the galvanizing of the steel itself. Would you explain what they’re doing up there and speak to the hazards of climbers sharing space with hundreds of wasps?
We’ve written about wasp nests before, in a question about why wasps tend to die headfirst in their nests. To begin this story, I’d like to quote the last part of that article.
These wasps are caught out in the cold-both figuratively and literally-after their society collapsed. After the annual collapse of their society, they died looking for food.
This sort of behavior is actually very common in social insects. Honeybees do the same thing. After winter, it’s very common to see dead bees headfirst in honeycomb. They died the same way…looking for food.
While these wasps didn’t make it, some of their sisters survived the winter by finding a warm place to sleep. They’ll start nests of their own next year, and the cycle will continue anew.
It’s sad, but that’s nature for you. It’s both beautiful and cruel…all at the same time.
At the end of every year, wasp societies collapse. The workers die, the queens hibernate, and new nests appear in the spring. It’s a simple story…but it’s not quite right. As always with insects, there’s more to the story.
There’s another layer of complication to how people tell the lifecycles of wasps, and the pictures above show a part of an interesting story that few folks know about.
Before they build their nests in the spring, the future queens gather for one last party.