General Wasp Keeper's Information Thread: Volume Two

Cheshire

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This is a follow up to the article I posted last year on wasp keeping, which Tleilaxu and other members also played a huge part. I did make a few mistakes, which I corrected this year...first and foremost being the time of capture.

Last year, I made the mistake of exposing the colony's foundress to direct sunlight for about five minutes during relocation (the drive to my house from the capture site). She never fully recovered and eventually passed away after a few days. The other colony's members did eventually step up, raising the grubs up to adults and building onto the nest. However, none of them laid eggs. I don't know if the Polistes genus is one of those that can't spawn a new queen or if something is required for a worker to make that jump. This is a subject for further research.

The method of capture remains the same as the other article. The only thing that's changed is the time. I captured this nest at night. This foundress decided to build her colony in the same place as the colony I captured last year did.

To capture the foundress, I simply took a super soaker squirt gun and filled it with ice water. The cold immobilized her so she couldn't fly away or sting me. After the foundress or any other possible workers are out of the way, the nest can be safely harvested by hand. The grubs don't sting...but you'll want to make sure the workers are out of the way.

You are going to want to harvest your nest at the beginning of the summer, when the nests are still relatively small. There are two reasons for this.

1.) The nests are still small. You don't have to worry about dozens of angry workers swarming you at once.

2.) The foundress is easily discernable. Generally, the foundress likes to keep her first generation of workers small (she does this by feeding the grubs less) to avoid any struggles for dominance when they emerge. Thus, at the beginning of the summer the foundress will always be the biggest wasp in the nest. If you lose a few workers, it won't matter. However, if you lose the foundress you will have to try again the following night.

Here is the nest I captured:



You can see the grubs and the one cell that's covered up belongs to a grub about to form itself into a pupa.

I'd like to make a special note of this: Generally, the safest time you're going to find to capture the wasp's nest is during the day, when it's easier to see what you're doing. Capturing the colony at night is simply what worked for me the best.

After you're done capturing the colony, it's generally a good idea to refridgerate the foundress for a few minutes. I didn't find this neccesary.

The second thing I'm changing wasn't really a mistake. I found the CD spindle design easy enough to use, but I did have a few problems with escapes that new keepers wouldn't really want to deal with.

This year, I decided to set up the colony in a 5 gallon tank instead of a CD spindle. I especially like this version, it gives me room to observe the colony's interactions with each other and allows easier maintenance. If you're going to use a tank, it's preferable to use a model with a sliding top. We'll get to this later.



If you're working on this late at night (these pictures were taken at like two in the morning) caffine isn't a bad idea because a pissed off vespid will likely be moving faster than you will.

I'd like to thank this guy for letting me finish this project in half an hour, and also keeping me alert enough to not be foolish: (well, kind of)



The next step is to prepare the tank. A lot of people like to keep their wasp nests out in the open surrounded by nothing but clear plastic. This is for visibility.

I don't like to do this. I found my colony last year spent much more time looking at me (we'll get to this behaivior later) than they did interacting amongst themselves. To combat this, I used a modified cardboard box to create sort of a 'fence' (for lack of a better term) around the colony to make them feel safe. You might have to cut a cardboard box to size. Here's how I made mine:

First, I took a box that someone had shipped stuff to me in and cut it like so:



Then, I cut that part off. I then cut two peices off the scraps and glued them to form something that looked like the top half of the box. Here's the result before trimming:



I decided to use cardboard for two reasons.

1.) It might help make their nest. Paper wasps usually like to chew up wood or paper to add on to their nest. This will theoretically supply building materials to help them add to their nests.

2.) Wasps generally use porous materials to attach their nests to. I've never seen a nest on plastic...as of yet. Most of the nests I see are attached to the sides of houses on wooden parts. I even know of one case where wasps built their nest in a fully decomposed human skull. This will seem a bit more natural to them.

The next thing you need to to is set the orientation of the tank. This is something I thought up because I'm a bit anal about this, but you need to be able to work with your wasps with the hand you feel the most comfortable with.

This is how mine is set up:



As you can see, I'm right handed so I prefer my tank's sliding door opens to the left.



When I built the enclosure, I made sure my tank's door opened to the right so I could be certian it would open to the left when I was done.

Next, you want to glue the wasp's nest to the cardboard. This part, I screwed up royally at first:



As you can see, the nest is way too close to the side. You need to leave a little bit of space between the colony and the side of the 'fence'. To correct this, just simply cut the first layer of cardboard off and pull up. You'll get something like this:



Now, please remember when you're dealing with anything that's sharp and pointy at 2 AM that caffine is not a substitute for caution. I did manage to injure myself with the knife I was using:

http://a400.ac-images.myspacecdn.com/images01/127/l_2473954ab59790bfa1a814d680cad36f.jpg

It looks worse than it was.

When you glue the colony, make sure the nest is as vertically orientated as possible. It needs to be straight up and down if you want this to succeed.

Glue the nest and 'fence' in the bottom of the tank upside-down like so:



The result is a polistes enclosure you can comfortably do maintenance in:



Now...the interesting part. Re-introduction of the queen to the nest. Here's the container I used to capture the queen:



Opaque sides are definitely a bonus...especially if you capture your colony during the day.

Anyways...re-introduction of the foundress to the nest isn't the easiest thing in the world. Follow these instructions very carefully...

...One, open the container.



She will climb up to the top of the container like so:



And then, she'll find her nest by smell.



You can't screw it up ;)



She will find her nest on her own. You may need the assistance of a pencil to place her on it, but if the foundress is healthy she will find her own nest without any assistance.

That's it for the housing portion...it's all pretty simple. Now, for the care portion.
 
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Cheshire

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The care for wasps is extremely simple. They are predators, so they prefer live prey. The adults hunt prey for the grubs which need a high protien diet. The adults themselves eat sugary substances. The grubs produce a sugary substance they use to nourish the adults.

I've never seen my wasps hunt. Tleilaxu has seen this behaivior and I expect he'll fill this part in the best he can.

However, I have seen what happens after the wasp catches it's food. They seem to hunt almost like mantids. Mine used it's jaws and front legs to immobilize the prey in question and then drug it around the cage, looking for a good place to dine:





They're messy eaters that can take up to 15 minutes to finish a meal.

These guys prefer soft bodied food. I tried lobster roaches for awhile, but I couldn't tell if they were being eaten or simply crawling out of the enclosure. I suspect B. dubia et. al are too hard bodied as nymphs for these guys. So as much as I hate crickets, they really are the perfect food for wasps. I reccomend feeding them crickets no bigger than the head and the thorax of the foundress.

I've also had one of the wasps take freshly killed food. This is the exception rather than the rule because it was the smaller worker that did this. I always keep a handful of (three maximum) crickets in the cage with the wasps. They take one or two per day. I expect this number to increase exponentially as the colony gets bigger.

After the adults capture the food and consume it, they fly back to the nest and feed the larvae in the same manner which birds are so famous for-they regurgitate it.

Pics of the feeding process: (I kind of disturbed them towards the end)






Like I said earlier, you need to take the requirements of the adults into consideration as well. Even though the adults hunt and appear to eat, they don't actually use the food they catch for the nymphs. Instead, the adults eat sugary liquids. I prefer fruit juices (usually apple and orange) or pop. I plan on switching to watered down honey within the week.

The food for the adults needs to be changed daily, as it will mould within 48 hours. Don't ask me how this works, because I honestly don't think I could increase ventilation any more with this setup.

So...yeah, that's pretty much it for feeding. Crickets of an appropriate size, sugary liquids and a water cap are all that's required.



Next, you need to learn about warning behaivior. Normally this species is pretty laid back. All the photos of the nest were taken with my hands 6 inches or less from the nest.

However, there are certian times when you absolutely do not want to mess with the colony at all. For some, this comes at the same time every day. I haven't noticed anything like this.

Avoiding stings is pretty much common sense. You'll soon learn the baseline behaiviors of your new pets, which is pretty much general disinterest. They will rest with their wings folded across their backs and will usually spend most of their time tending to their grubs and socializing.

Once you open the cage's door their behaivior may change. If the wasps are following your every move but their wings are still folded over their back, maintanence is OK as long as you don't make any sudden moves and don't come within a few inches of the nest. They will be curious about any large disturbance of their territory, but will generally keep their distance. They will eventually learn to associate you with food and will leave you well alone.

Sometimes you will see them holding their wings in a similar fashion to this series of pictures:









This is what I call a stage one warning display. They will display themselves like this when they feel you are coming too close. The purpose of this is to seem bigger than they are.

I had to blow on the colony to get them to do this, and even then they didn't stay in this pose long enough for me to snap really good shots of them. I've built up a kind of rapport with my colony ;).

The next type of warning is what I call a stage two warning, where the entire colony loudly buzzes in unison. If you recieve this type of greeting, maintenance is not a good idea.

The next type of warning is a stage three warning, which is very rare. They generally just up and sting you at this point.

Even though the last word I would ever use to describe these guys is 'docile', it does kind of describe their demeanor. As long as you don't harass the nest, they do keep their distance.

Polistes fuscatus is the only wasp I currently have access to, so this caresheet only applies to this species. P. fuscatus is a common species in the northern states and I'm not 100% sure of it's range.

A user here by the name of Tleilaxu has also been experimenting with wasp setups. He has access to a greater variety than I do and I've asked him to come to this thread and share his experience. He's also been able to coax a female into making her own nest from scratch in captivity, something I've not yet had the opportunity to do.
 
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Tleilaxu

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Very nice, a few points

The upright stinging you warning will be phase four, the third phase I have seen is they will rapidly move about their nest while vibrating their wings to make a nasty buzzing noise, it is sporadic buzzing, ignoring this last request to back off is just asking for a sting and in my opinion you deserve it. Here is what I have noticed in warning stages
1. They will follow you movments carefully and seem active when you get too close to the nest.
2. They will display and lean towards the offending object, they will also perk up and be more alert during this time.
3. They will rapidly move about the nest rapidly shaking their wings to make a buzzing noise that sounds like they are hitting something, they may also hit their wings against the sides of their nest and enclosure to amplify the effect.
4. They will mock charge at try to bite, they may also sting during this time, generally you have to really set them off to get to this stage. As a note when they kill something and bring it back to the nest there sometimes can be general "excitement" where they are just moving about the nest, and there maybe some fighting amongst themselves, I would advise not working with them till they settle down.

To a certain extent they can learn and if you open the cage with minimal vibration or disturbance they will just glance at you and you are free to do what ever you need to.

To reiterate though in most cases you can work a few inches from the nest with the wasps showing general indifference:
http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v322/Tleilaxu/Wasp project/000_2758.jpg
Note the body language in this pic, this is indicitive of a relaxed colony. And to an extent you DO develope a rapport with these guys, but the thing to remember is THEY make the rules not the other way around.

Next diet, I have gotten fussy wasps to take different prey by puncturing the food item with a sharp object and while the prey is on that object offer it to the wasps, by moving the item, where "blood" is flowing out of the wound to the wasps, they generally take it then, after biting it a few times, and after feeling their bites through the toothpick used to impale the prey I can say I am more worried about their bites than stings! Also varing the diet is also recommended, they will take waxmoth larva, hornworms, cut mealie worms, moths and flies. Mine seem to reject butter worms. Also they do not eat the prey they catch, though they may take the juices, their main purpose when mashing up the cricket is to get it in an edible form for there grubs. So the chewing (which looks like eating) is actually used to remove the internal organs and waste. If you live in an area where pesticides are not used, an easy way to get soft bodies insects is to turn a bright deck light on at night and catch the moths and other bugs that get attracted to the light. I have had the best success in feedind flying insects when I impale them and then offer them to the wasps, as some times they have trouble catching them, and they(moths flies, ect) often fall in the food dishes and spoil the food, juice honey, ect.

Also I like to offer my wasps acess to a large water dish, though they seldom use it I have seen them drink from time to time, though generally they get their needed hydration from the food they eat and their prey, plus the larva feed them as well. The amount these guys go through in food is impressive so have a lot of food on hand, as they get cranky when they are hungry. Mine go through over ten to 20 items a week, and they ALWAYS must have access to foods they can drink, like juice and honey, plus water. They will not last long without it, and will die in two to three days. These are not like T's or other inverts their metabolism is off the charts compared to the other mainstay inverts, bear this in mind before getting them as they will eat up more of your time, than T's ever will.

Hunting behavior in your wasps is generally shown by active pacing around the enclosure and they will investigate nooks and crannies and focus on any movement, they will also fly around in a methodical patteren.

I have found that Polistes Dominula to be a bit more jumpy that P. fuscatus and they are much more willing to bite but other than that they are able to be worked with in much the same manner and the northern paper wasps.

General maintance, should be carried out once a week, and food should be changed every other day at the least. Be sure to remove un eaten food promptly if it is not alive. Keeping the cage clean is important for these guys and to your image as a wasp keeper, having a dirty cage may give the impression that you are afraid to work with them. And its not fair to your guests either (the wasps)
 
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Cheshire

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I figured I'd give this an update.

The colony's been gone for a few months, so I thought I'd let you guys know how it went. Even though they eventually learned to associate my hand with food, they never learned to associate my camera with food so picture taking became a risky endeavor while putting in food was relatively tame.

I ended up with roughly 10 workers and about 4 males. The nest more than doubled in size.

I think I could get a larger nest than even that if I paid close attention to a few details. This is why I'm currently trying to figure out how to raise a mealworm colony without any risk of grain mites. I think if I can get a constant supply of food for the grubs, I can get the colony up to 15 or 20 in a season. Maybe more. I believe avalibility of food to be the limiting factor here.

The colony went well until November, when it quickly declined after I lowered the temps in my house to about 60* or so. The adults seemed to lose interest in taking care of the nest and went their seperate ways. That, and there was a cricket shortage for about two weeks in my area. Mating was never observed, so I made no effort to hibernate the foundresses.

Right now, I find myself at a crossroads in regards to this project. I desperately wish to continue it next year, however I do not feel I can handle both this project and my centipede project while guaranteeing top notch care for both projects.

The centipede project is also a financial endeavor as well and there are a few species of tarantulas I'd like to pick up for an even longer term project. The finances of this longer term project (4-5 years) may clash with my shorter (2-3 years) term centipede project, so right now there is a very real chance I could just decide to spend next summer chasing papers and reading for the research involved in this project.

I will decide next spring whether I will write a third volume of this thread (which will include breeding, as I believe I can capture two unrelated colonies safely) or if I will begin my centipede project. This endeavor is one I truly love, and the centipede project is something which may require a bit more reading than I originally thought.

I'll get pics of the final nest up when I can. They're taken, but my camera is currently at my house and I'm writing this at the house of my parents.
 

scottyk

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Really looks like a great project.

Have you considered setting them up with a PVC tube that gives them outdoor access? I've seen a few amazing displays done this way. It will allow them to have more natural behaviors, and remove all of the feeding chores. All you'd need to do is kick back and watch, and possibly add supplemental treats for some extra colony growth....

The obvious challenge will be too build it securely enough that it doesn't come apart inside your house, but that shouldn't be too difficult....
 

Sandman

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I can't wait...

This is right up my alley, can't wait to get started on my own predatory colony of wasps. Great read!
 

Cheshire

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Really looks like a great project.

Have you considered setting them up with a PVC tube that gives them outdoor access? I've seen a few amazing displays done this way. It will allow them to have more natural behaviors, and remove all of the feeding chores. All you'd need to do is kick back and watch, and possibly add supplemental treats for some extra colony growth....

The obvious challenge will be too build it securely enough that it doesn't come apart inside your house, but that shouldn't be too difficult....
Yes and no.

The original intent of the project I started in volume one of this thread (can be found in the articles section) was to see whether or not wasps can be kept as tarantulas.

The answer so far has been yes. There are only a handful of things left to do with this project...the biggest is to get captive breeding down pat.

Maybe in volume four, I'll set up a colony with a PVC pipe to the outside and monitor the colony's growth compared to a captive colony. There are much higher priorities...such as captive breeding. I'd honestly like to see a trade of foundresses or at least a breeding loan of some sort happen next year.

Care still isn't 100%, though. I'll be posting pictures of what I believe the average colony growth will be sometime tomorrow. I think with a constant food supply, growth could improve dramatically.

*shrug*

There's still a lot of experimenting to do in this area. This is probably the most fun I've ever had working with bugs...and it really is hard for me to turn my back on this project even temporarily. I really want to see more people document their projects as I have done here. Seeing how everyone cares for their wasps and seeing who's methods bring the best results could very well be invaluable.
 

scottyk

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Keep us posted. My wife loves the Tarantulas, plays with the roaches, indulges my aquarium hobby but is terrified of bees and wasps. I'll only be able to enjoy this vicariously through your posts and pictures....
 

Cheshire

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Here is the type of growth I'd believe to be typical in a season.

You can see the chew marks from where the adults used the cardboard to build onto the nest.
 

dtknow

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So is now the time of year to be looking for a foundress?
 

auroborus

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cool, i'm in Maryland and Ive seen reddish and dark shiny blue wasp. i might to make a set up with one of them or maybe bumble bees, if there possible to raise within a terrarium.
 

Cheshire

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So is now the time of year to be looking for a foundress?
All the capture details were explained in the article. You could look for a foundress now, however coaxing foundresses to make a nest from complete scratch poses some problems for first time keepers. I'd wait until spring/early summer to capture a foundress with a nest already constructed.

cool, i'm in Maryland and Ive seen reddish and dark shiny blue wasp. i might to make a set up with one of them or maybe bumble bees, if there possible to raise within a terrarium.
That wasp is probably some sort of parasitic wasp. The care and breeding for those would be considerably different. You'd need a dish full of mud and give the wasp access to prey.

Polistes ssp. should be somewhat easy to find in Maryland.

I haven't researched requirements for these types, though. I'm tackling the easy ones first.

I think bumblebees would be difficult to raise in a terrarium for the same reason honeybees would be difficult to raise in a terrarium.
 

Dr Livingston

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I have a medium sized hive going right now but I have no idea what kind of wasps they are. They are an overall red with three to four yellow stripes on their abdomens. The stripes are outlined in black and the thorax has the outline of a yellow hexagon that transitions into two vertical stripes. Does anyone have any idea what they might be?
 

Talkenlate04

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Lil bump

I think I am going to try my hand at this. I have re located nests before to eves that I could look under from a window and be close, but never done it in captivity. Today I found my starter nest, and I think I have the queen. There is one other empty cell in the middle that might have held a worker at some point but I did not see a second wasp coming back to the nest in the period I watched it. She is being very sweet so far. Even feeding off nectar I had at the end of some tweezers. In one of the pictures you can see her eating a grub I gave her then feeding her babies. Looks like I might also have some new residents on the nest soon as well! So I hope it works!


 

Tleilaxu

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Nice Polistes dominula. A semi jumpy species at thge start they do learn that you are not a threat and calm down. You do have the queen BTW, keep us updated!
 

Talkenlate04

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She pretty much thinks movement from me means food now and is not aggressive at all toward me. If I move to fast she will buzz her wings a bit but she is a sweet heart. And I found out today she loves freshly molted baby dubia roaches. I fed her one and she balled it up and fed it to her grubs.
 

Cheshire

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I have a medium sized hive going right now but I have no idea what kind of wasps they are. They are an overall red with three to four yellow stripes on their abdomens. The stripes are outlined in black and the thorax has the outline of a yellow hexagon that transitions into two vertical stripes. Does anyone have any idea what they might be?

ID is difficult even with pictures...there are several variations of P. fuscatus alone and I don't think I'd know them on sight.

Get pictures and we'd be able to hash something out. It might also be a good idea to pick up a feild guide from a bookstore and look up the ID. Borders has a very low pressure sales staff. They'll let you read the book cover to cover in the store ;).

What area of the country do you live in? P. fuscatus is common in the north, but in the south there are several more interesting species.

Nice Polistes dominula. A semi jumpy species at thge start they do learn that you are not a threat and calm down. You do have the queen BTW, keep us updated!
I agree, that does look like the foundress. It's a bit difficult to tell...but I think there's a good chance that is foundress.
 
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