Vespula maculifrons; Auplopus mellipes mellipes

I was doing some yardwork last October, cleaning up the margin of my back patio with a manual edger, when I noticed that a couple of yellowjackets had started pacing along with the work. At first I was concerned about the possibility that I’d trespassed too near a nest, and had made them feel as if they needed to deal with me. But then I realized they weren’t interested in me at all, so much as in what I was doing – they stayed quite close to where I was working, often just a few inches from my ankles, and made repeated low passes over the freshly upturned earth.

After a little while, I decided not to worry about them, as they were very evidently not worrying about me, and continued with what I was doing. A little while later, when I was close to done with the work, it became quite clear just why their interest lay where it did: they were hunting. Luckily, I had my macro rig near to hand and ready to use, and so caught some good close shots of one of them (and a couple of her rather distant cousins) wrestling with prey quite a bit larger than herself.

This was taken with the lens objective element about six inches from the subject, and with three quite powerful front-mounted flash heads firing besides. As far as I could tell, she was so busy with her prey that she never noticed my presence – a habit I’ve observed before in other wasps, such as those pictured elsewhere on this site. But even when they aren’t so occupied, I have yet to see a wasp so much as show any notice that I was taking pictures of her, much less attempt to attack me for so doing.

I suppose I can understand why people get so exercised about yellowjackets, but I’ve never really seen the need. The only time one of them has ever given me trouble was the time when I was driving along the highway with my windows open, and one got caught in the slipstream and ended up on my lap – all unawares, I dropped my hand into my lap, and of course she stung me, because who wouldn’t? I just counted myself lucky that she’d landed on her back, and thus jabbed me in a fingertip, rather than anywhere else. Having achieved her goal of making me take my hand away, she promptly flew back out of the car again, and my finger was sore for a couple of days, and then it was fine.

I suppose it helps that I keep an eye out for wasps in general, appreciating them for their industriousness and their beauty, and so I’m prepared to notice and steer clear of anything that seems like it might be traffic to and from a yellowjacket nest. I think it might also help that I am not afraid of them, and thus don’t feel the need to behave in ways that make them afraid of me. Why be upset that social wasps should defend their homes? Humans do the same.

The other day, I was working in my home office – a small room with many windows, not all of which fit perfectly into their frames – when I discovered I had a visitor, a small pompilid of an unfamiliar species which I believe to have been in the genus Priocnemis have since identified as Auplopus mellipes mellipes. She’d gotten herself tangled in a bit of cat hair, and I felt that it was incumbent upon me as her host to help her out of the bind, which I did. Once that was done, and she’d settled down a bit from her earlier dismay, I encouraged her to climb onto my hand, hoping for a good picture. That didn’t work out – on the one hand, pompilids’ hunting behavior makes them necessarily vulnerable and they are therefore disinclined to spend too much time at rest, and on the other, I don’t think she cared to be standing on something that moved. But she didn’t seem unduly bothered by it, either, and saw no need to sting me, nor did I fear a sting; after all, what is a human hand to a wasp whose entire body is no longer than the last joint of that hand’s little finger?

After offering a small refreshment of sugar water, I took her out on the side porch to see her on her way, and she flew off cheerfully enough, no doubt in search of spiders.

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