Social Wasp nest construction 2011
In April 2011, we discovered that this queen Saxon Wasp (Dolichovespula saxonica) had begun constructing a nest on the back of the door to our old coal house. This daily photographic diary showed the continued construction of the nest as the weeks progressed. However, many newly formed nests never actually make it past these early stages and this was to eventually happen with this nest, when the queen was found dead on May 14th.
Day 001 - 18/04/11 Found this queen Saxon Wasp this afternoon, just starting to create her nest on the back of the door in our old coal shed. Not being bothered about Wasp nests near the house, we're letting her stay, to see how she goes. Day 002 - 19/04/11 We looked in on her last night after moth-trapping and she was resting on the start of her first cells, at the lower part of the main nest stem. She's been busy throughout the morning, constructing the outer covering and strengthened the main nest stem. Day 003 - 20/04/11 She's been busy extending the umbrella structure and extending the cells early morning. She's also laid the first eggs in each cell.
Day 003 - 20/04/11 First eggs laid, with one cell still to construct. Day 003 - 20/04/11 Taken late afternoon, this photo shows the amount of construction work she has undertaken since this time on day 2 (above photograph) Day 004 - 21/04/11 More construction to the outer and inner umbrella like structures during the early morning. Now when she rests, it's only just possible to see her.
Day 005 - 22/04/11 The second umbrella is now complete and down to the level of the cells. Nest is now about golf ball size. Day 005 - 22/04/11 Since the first photograph showing the cells and first eggs, she has constructed the missing seventh cell and constructed five more, each with a single egg. Day 006 - 23/04/11 With the cells now covered by the second umbrella, she has today been starting to construct a third and has been away from the nest quite often today. Photographed late morning.
Day 007 - 24/04/11 Some construction work again today, mainly tidying up the covering around the cells. Day 008 - 25/04/11 Quite a difference in the nest today, with the third umbrella structure much increased in size. She still spends time resting curled around the top of the cells. A second queen was noted visiting the same shed several times this evening. Day 008 - 25/04/11 Managed to get a photograph showing the cells this morning, revealing that the first eggs laid on day four or five have now hatched and growing well.
Day 009 - 26/04/11 There seems to have been only a little nest construction today, spending much of the day tending her brood or resting above the cells. Day 010 - 27/04/11 There seems to have been some extending of the cells containing the largest grubs since yesterday. These are now growing well, when compared to a similar photograph on Day 008. Day 010 - 27/04/11 With the temperature around the nest rising steadily during the morning, she was fanning air over the growing brood by early afternoon.
Day 010 - 27/04/11 The first decent photograph of the queen since early on in the nest building process, but working with low light levels, means that sharp photographs are unlikely. We're looking ahead, to when the workers are active and thinking about fixing a camera in position. Day 011 - 28/04/11 More work covering the extended cells, plus she's been actively feeding her brood for much of the day. There's also signs that she has slightly extended the outer covering of her nest. Day 012 - 29/04/11 She's been very active this morning, with more construction work on the nest. In this (and the next photograph) she was photographed in the process of extending the outer umbrella.
Day 012 - 29/04/11 The new layer is easy to see as a darker strip, just being added to by the queen in this photograph. Work has also been done since yesterday, on covering the extended cells. Day 012 - 29/04/11 Two days since the last photograph we took of the growing larvae, today's photograph shows how quickly development takes place. Two small cells to the upper right, just about show the latest eggs laid a couple of days ago. Day 013 - 30/04/11 Compared to the photograph of the nest taken on 29/04/11, she has been extending the lower cell covering for most of the day today.
Day 014 - 01/05/11 When we had a look early afternoon today, we thought that something had gone wrong. Nest attack by perhaps another wasp was considered, yet seemed unlikely and there was no sign of the queen. Day 014 - 01/05/11 Inspection of the floor below the nest revealed that the hole had probably been done by the queen herself for some reason and she returned to the nest just after these photographs were taken. Whilst the queen was not present, we took the chance to check on brood development, which is considerable since two days ago. Day 015 - 02/05/11 Some rebuilding work has been done today, but overall, the nest is not typically shaped as it should be at this stage. This photograph was taken late evening and in poor light, whilst the queen was sat on the brood cells.
Day 016 - 03/05/11 Little change to the nest structure today. When viewed late evening, the queen was busy feeding her very active brood. Day 017 - 04/05/11 The nest continues to take on an unusual shape, with some strange construction/filling in work done by the queen today. Day 018 - 05/05/11 Managed to get a photograph of the growing brood this afternoon, this photograph being taken whilst the queen was resting above the brood cells.
Day 019 - 06/05/11 Not much done to the nest today. Day 020 - 07/05/11 The brood continues to grow, with those from the first eggs laid, very nearly full grown now. Day 021 - 08/05/11 With not wanting to disturb the queen, we have limited photography until the late evening. Unfortunately, this makes for images taken in very poor light. The day was marked by the first larva spinning over its cell as the pupation process begins.
Day 022 - 09/05/11 A second larva has begun pupation today, whilst the remaining larvae continue to grow well. Photographed late evening. Day 023 - 10/05/11 We've not shown a photograph of the nest for a few days, as little has been done on it's construction. We will try to get a photograph from a different angle, to show how mis-shapen this nest currently is. Day 024 - 11/05/11 Little change since day 22, but a photograph taken in much better light (mid-morning) whilst the queen was away from the nest.
Day 025 - 12/05/11 Photographed late evening while the queen was away from the nest, a third larva has now spun over the top of its cell. Day 030 - 17/05/11 With the queen having died on May 14th, we are still monitoring the nest. Many of the larvae that had'nt completed growth to pupation, have disappeared from their cells. Presumably through lack of food. Three small larvae are still in situ, but will probably die before the first of the three worker emerge. How these three workers will act with no queen and probably no brood, will be interesting. Day 037 - 24/05/11 16 days after the first larva had spun over the top of its cell and 12 days after the third larva completed the same process, we decided to check on any development within the cells. As all three potential worker wasps are doomed to die if they hatched anyway, we took the decision to make the most of what must be a unique opportunity to photograph this stage of development.
Day 037 - 24/05/11 With the aid of a scalpel, the top of the first cell was opened, then the other two. We were quite astonished to see the resulting photographs, which show three stages of development. It was also surprising to find that development takes place within the larval skin during the early stages of development. This is shown better in the previous photograph, as the head case is still attached to the two lesser developed larvae.    
Identification of Nottinghamshire's Social Wasps
Bee and Wasp Photo Gallery - Thumbnail version
Insect Photo Gallery - Text version