City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

October 9, 2016

October 9th

Filed under: European Paper Wasp, mosquitoes, picnic site 11, Variegated Meadowhawks — canopus56 @ 7:08 pm

Wasp Shock

8:30 a.m. Along the road, taxpayers provide free plastic bags for visitors to pickup their dog’s droppings; however, the dispensers purchased by the City do not work well. The rolls of bags frequently bind up inside the housing. At picnic site 11, I pop the lid to the dispenser in order to free the roll. Today, it is empty except for two plastic bag rolls and a small beginnings of the fan shaped nest of the European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula).

The afternoon of the day following the last storm (October 6th), I also walk up to dispenser, and as usual the plastic bag roll will not feed out of its slit. I open dispenser’s lid to free the roll, and its top half (10 in. x 12 in. by 4 in.) is filled with about 100 bright-yellow European Paper Wasps. As I jump back in alarm, the lid drops open, and all of the wasps spill out into a pile at the base of the dispenser. A few remain within the dispenser and they cling to the plastic rolls. I brace for an en masse stinging, but the European paper wasp is not particularly aggressive, and the colony has been stunned into docility by the intense overnight cold. They crawl around on the plastic rolls and on the ground while staring at me vacantly. The face of the European paper wasp is similar to their relatives, the Bald-Faced hornets, who have a nest a quarter-mile down canyon. For the European paper wasp, the lines in their face where exoskeleton plates meet are colored yellow and not white as in the Bald-Faced hornet.

I checked back an hour later. The colony, including all the wasps clumped on the ground, have flown off. They have decided that building a nest in a moving plastic roll was not a good idea.

Human make micro-habitats, and, if possible, a parcel’s original plants and animals readily adapt to those changes. The wasp using a plastic bag dispenser is an example, and the holding tank public toilet around the corner from the dispenser at picnic site 11 is another. Mosquitoes are not a significant nuisance in the summer canyon; numerous insect and bird predators, like Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, keep them in check. This morning, inside the toilet at picnic site 11, humans have created an ideal micro-habitat for mosquitoes, and the walls of the toilet are covered in about one-hundred “no-see-ums”. They have a ready source of water in which to breed; they are protected from the predators outside by the toilet’s walls, and heat from decaying matter in the holding tank provides a source of warmth.

But on this cold morning, these mosquitoes, like the paper wasps, can do little more than weakly flail about on the walls. None can warm themselves sufficient to fly, and thus, I am able to take care of my morning business unmolested.

Across from picnic site 11 is the gas pipeline check value. Here and along the road, several hundred bright-yellow roadside sunflowers could be found at the height of the summer. Now, only two live yellow blooms remain.

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