What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Mystery Wasp in Shower
October 3, 2009
Greetings, bug people!
Well, last week a buddy and me were just sitting around hanging out on our day off. He got up to go use the bathroom and I heard him say from around the corner, “Uh…you’ve got a wasp in the shower……it’s looking at me…”
Naturally my curiosity had me heading to the bathroom…slowly, I might add…the red wasps have been crazy down here for the last couple months and I didn’t want to risk my friend seeing a grown man cry….
So anyway, I made my way to the bathroom and this is what I saw staring through the shower curtain at us. At first my brain said “red wasp!” just from the shape, but with closer inspection (once we determined it was apparently in a pretty docile mood) that was ruled out.
It almost reminds me of some of the hornets we have down here what with the yellow coloring and all, but I’ve never seen one built so delicately. Most of the hornets we have are more the “Don’t let the cat out or it’ll get carried off.” kind of hornet. This is built more like the reds but at the same time it’s got some dirt-dobber type features.
After staring at it point-blank for a while it was obvious he wasn’t too perturbed by our presence so I snapped a few pictures with my phone through the clear curtain. We caught him (first try! Heheheh) with a couple drinking cups, and he was put out into the back yard.
Sorry the picture’s a little blurry, as I said it was taken through a clear shower curtain with a cell-phone camera…my digital is currently in Alabama with the other half of my divorce….but anyway…
It’s hard to tell but the patch on the front of the head is light yellow, as are the joints where the middle set of legs meet the thorax. Never really got a good look at the dorsal side but there appeared to be some faint striping on the abdomen. Couldn’t tell you what the rest of him looked like, what’s in the picture is what I could see. I’ll admit I ran off like a pansy when he was released. I’ve caught and released many a bug in my life and I’ve noticed a trend…no matter how calm they may be sitting around in the house, most tend to be a bit agitated upon finding themselves being transported outdoors….and people wonder why I prefer fish. I might have grown up outside but I don’t like being stung any more than anyone else.
So long story short, flying insect in my bathroom, took picture, released it, we both ran away, everybody happy.
Thanks, bug people! More to come, I’m sure! 🙂
Kris
Southeast Texas

Paper Wasp in the Shower

Paper Wasp in the Shower

Hi Kris,
What a nice descriptive letter you have sent us.  We believe this is a Paper Wasp in the genus Polistes, and your comparison to the Red Wasp is well observed as the Red Wasp, Polistes carolina, is closely related.  We are reluctant to attempt an exact species identification without a dorsal view, but we will see if Eric Eaton can assist in that area.

Hey, thanks for the timely reply! I know y’all are pretty busy so I appreciate the effort! 🙂
I see what you mean about the relation to the reds. I thought it was similarly built and now I know why.
On a fairly related note, down here we have two different wasps that we call “red wasps.” There are the red-tails and the black-tails (really it’s the abdomen color that varies but hang with me here). We have both varieties in great numbers, and even though we have to combat them constantly around my grandparents’ house due to the presence of young children we like to leave them alone when we find them elsewhere because, frankly, you won’t find a better way to fight cut-worms and horn-worms in the tomato patch than good-ol’ red wasps, and with the drop in the honey-bee population in the area over the last decade they have even taken up a large part of the pollination. Unfortunately all attempts at negotiating a settlement that would benefit both parties have ended in disaster and the wasps continue their attempts to colonize everything from the tool shed to the eves outside the front door.
Aaaaand I’ve gotten slightly off-topic….so anyway, whereas the black-tailed variety will generaly leave you alone if left alone in turn the red-tails are notably more aggr essive. Yeah, sure, they’ll give the usual warning hum by rapidly vibrating their wings if you get within about ten feet of the nest, which is great…..if you happen to be another insect and can detect such frequencies of sound! I’ve also noticed that the red-tails, unlike the black-tails, will often have two to five of their brethren patrolling an area around the nest within about twenty feet. It’s like a combat-air-patrol over an aircraft carrier! They’re smarter than we give them credit for….
The nests appear to be the same building style beween the two types, but I’ve noticed the red-tails tend to keep a small nest of three to four insects with maybe a dozen chambers whereas my grandfather and I have found black-tail nests that wouldn’t fit in his hat and were absolutely covered in wasps. I don’t know if this is just a natural trait or if it’s something the reds have adapted to counter the more aggressive stance we’ve taken against their species to keep them out of the yard. Small hard to find nests tucked away in tighter areas than the black-tails so that even if we do find the nest wiping it out will only get rid of one or two insects…..again….smarter than we give credit for.
Now I don’t want you to get the wrong idea about me just because I do my share in the seasonal battle at my grandparents’ place. Like I said, we all know that they serve a vital role  out on the farm and it’s only the nests around the house that we try to control. All us youngsters are educated on them (sometimes the hard way…say, behind the right earlobe for instance….) as early as possible. We actually have a handful of nests around my own house, both red and black-tails. I’ve let them be except for an incident with a nest of reds I literally walked right under without seeing until it was too late and have in turn been allowed to wander the yard freely. I think this is largely due to the two pear trees in the yard which both produced grandly this year. The wasps, both red and black-tail, absolutely LOVE the pears. Which doesn’t really surprise me because I had a couple of those pears myself and I have to say they were about the sweetest and juiciest I’ve had in my life. I can only imagine the energy burst they would give to an insect of that size. They seemed content to let me pass so long as I didn’t disturb their partaking of the grounded fruit. I tried repeatedly to get a picture of one doing its thing on a pear that a ‘possum had already started on but as you saw with the wasp in my shower my phone’s camera requires a subject of that size to be uncomfortably close and he just wasn’t having anything to do with me and my phone. After about the third try I ended up making a break for the house.
Anyway, I think I’ve taken up more than enough of your valuable time. Like I said, I=2 0appreciate the reply and so will Grandpa. He said he’d never seen a wasp like mine and he’s been down here since 1950….and he has seen some WEEEEEIIIRRRD stuff. He told me to let him know if I found out what it was and he’ll be proud his guess of “looks like it’s kin to a red wasp” was right on the money. If it’ll ever quit raining down here I’ll try to get out to their place and get some pictures for y’all. With summer being over the pickings will be a little slim, but I know some good places to look for stuff year around out there. I have GOT to get a new digital camera so I can stop trying to use this stupid little thing on my phone!
Again, thanks for the response! I’ve got another picture I want to send in but it’s in the eight-legged category and I’ll save it for later.
Have a good one, bug people!
Kris

Comment from Eric Eaton
Wow, Kris can really write an engaging and entertaining story!  Plus, it is obvious he is very well educated and appreciative of the natural world.  I’d love to meet him sometime….The wasp in the nice, clear image (camera phones must’ve come a long way lately) is a male paper wasp of some kind.  I know it is a male by the square, yellow face, long antennae with hooked tips, and the blunt tip of the abdomen.  So, no danger of getting stung because males do not have stingers!  Females have dark, triangular faces and shorter antennae.  At this time of year, paper wasp colonies are on the decline.  Males are left to their own devices, and females are seeking places to hibernate for the winter (though in Alabama the winter might still be a ways off, like late November or so).  Thanks for inviting me to read this, Daniel, it is very encouraging to see how intelligent, curious, and conservation-minded your readership is.
Eric

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

2 Responses to Paper Wasp in the Shower

  1. Judy says:

    I have a bug only in the bathroom it is long almost reminds you of a fish

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