A glimpse inside a yellowjacket wasp nest

A few days ago, I encountered a paper wasp nest being built on some of my research equipment. Normally I would leave wasp nests alone, but the location of this nest was causing a hazard. While considering options to remove the nest, I remembered how my college entomology professor, Cole Gilbert, had frozen a large paper wasp nest, and brought it in for the class to study. It was fascinating to take the nest apart to see how it was built. I thought my own kids would appreciate a similar experience. So after safely removing the nest, I put it in the freezer for a few days to ensure the wasps inside were dead. On Saturday morning, we opened the nest up to see what it looked like inside.

I was able to identify these wasps with the help of bugguide.net and a key to wasps in the family Vespidae. It turns out that they are Aerial Yellowjackets (Dolichovespula arenaria).

Here is the nest before we opened it up. The wasps enter and leave through a little opening on the bottom. This nest was the size of a large orange.

The outer layer of the nest has been peeled away. The nest is sitting upside down. When the wasps build the nest, the cells holding eggs, larvae, and pupae hang facing down.

Fuzzy pupae are in the rows of cells along the top of the photo, while larvae can be seen in the rows below. The adult wasps are fierce hunters, and capture insects to feed their brood. They will also go after other sources of food, like hamburgers at a picnic.

This photo shows four different life stages. Small, ellipsoid eggs can be seen in some of the cells. Larvae are present in three of the cells. Fuzzy pupae fill most of the rest of the cells. And one cell has an adult freshly emerging!

Here is a close-up view of the adult emerging from the pupae.

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