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Friday, April 13, 2001
By ROWAN HOOPER
*Japanese name: Futamon ashinagabachi *Scientific name: Polistes chinensis * Description: Paper wasps are social insects, meaning that they live together in a colony. A queen lays eggs, and worker insects feed the larvae. They have yellow and black stripes like regular wasps, but paper wasps are easy to identify because they dangle their long legs under their body when they fly. They also have bright orange antennae. They grow up to 16 mm long. * Where to find them: Around humans -- houses, sheds, buildings and parks. In spring the queen wasp builds a nest of hexagonal cells made from chewed-up wood fibers. Paper wasps are active from April to October. Colonies can contain up to 30 adult wasps, but do not approach a paper wasp's nest to see for yourself: The workers may sting you to drive you away. * Food: As well as pollen from flowers, paper wasps eat other insects. They especially like caterpillars, and some butterfly populations have been wiped out because of paper wasps. Sometimes they even cannibalize paper wasps from other nests. * Special features: The queen paper wasp is the only member of the colony to lay eggs. The workers are females, but they can't lay eggs as their ovipositor is modified into a weapon -- a sting that feels like a hot needle. Male paper wasps look for queens to mate with, and then die. Males can't sting because they have no ovipositor. The queen sleeps throughout winter.
Antennae: The sensory feelers on an insect's head. Cannibalize: Insects that eat other members of the same species are called cannibals. Ovipositor: The name entomologists use for the egg-laying machinery of insects.