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Great Lakes Article:

European Paper Wasp Invades Great Lakes

Article courtesy of the Oakland Press
August 3, 2001

The European paper wasp (Polistes dominulus) is being seen in southeast Michigan in large numbers for the first time. Experts don't know how the foreign wasps made it to the shores of the United States.

The wasp, which was first reported in Cambridge, Mass., in 1980, has several characteristics that may make it more conspicuous, said Tom Ellis, an entomologist at Michigan State University.

"Instead of building a humongous nest with a big colony, they build a number of smaller ones," he said.

"Take my deck for example. It's about 12 by 16 (feet). At one time there were probably half a dozen nests in and around it."

It also can be distinguished from native paper wasps because it appears "leggier," said Ellis. European paper wasp nests also resemble a gray ping pong ball - native paper wasp nests resemble an upside down champagne glass with a short stem.

All the paper wasps are by nature cavity nesters. When they can't find a cavity - like a hollow tree - they'll look for protected sites such as under a deck rail or roof eaves.

All paper wasps are social, forming colonies headed by a queen, said Ellis, but the Europeans take the trait to an extreme.

"They're so social that they'll even have two different queens in the same nest helping each other out," he said. "That's contrary to most wasps we have in this country."

Wasps, both the natives and the exotics, are also building toward their population peak at this time of the year, he said. Roll those factors together, said Ellis, "and there seems to be a lot more wasps around.

"What it is, there is probably a lot more wasps around houses."

Unlike the natives, the Europeans seem to have a more laid-back attitude - they normally don't sting unless they're handled.

"They don't seem to be particularly aggressive toward people like hornets and yellow jackets are," he said.

They also prey extensively on small caterpillars.

"One of their favorite foods is the caterpillar of the cabbage moth," said Ellis. "They're that real small, butterfly, white wings with a black spot on them, that you'll find hanging around gardens."

The caterpillars, he said, are major pests on cabbage and related plants such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

Ellis also recognizes that some people might feel threatened by large numbers of stinging insects building nests around homes. His first advice is to not mess with them, but, if you must, use an ant spray to kill the yellow and black adults and the larvae.

"If you see them crawling around, whack them with a flyswatter," he said.

So far, he said, the invasion has been fairly benign. The jury's still out, however, on what the long-term effects will be.

"This has an up side and a down side, and really we don't know what the down side is yet because it's new in the country," he said.

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