Mixed-Species Wasp Nest

2023 September 4

On July 22, 2023, a friend of ours asked for some help with a wasp nest right over his front door.

So, I put on my protective shirt, put a plastic bag over the nest, cut it off the wall with a pocketknife, tied off the bag, and then chucked it in his freezer overnight to kill them as humanely as possible. The next day, he brought the frozen nest to our house, and we dissected it so we could feed the grubs to our chickens. After we peeled off the outer paper shell to expose the brood comb inside, we noticed something really wierd – there were two different species of wasps sharing the same nest!

Most of them were black with yellow stripes in the classic “yellowjacket” pattern, but maybe a fifth of them were black with white stripes, and these all seemed to be clustered together in one part of the nest. This was clearly not an invasion situation, there was no sign that the two wasp types were fighting each other in any way. I even spotted one unusually large black-and-white one that may well have been their queen.

These look like the same two species that I photographed back in 2011. The yellowjackets look like Dolichovespula arenaria, the Common Aerial Yellowjacket.

Meanwhile, the black-and-white ones look like Vespula consobrina, commonly known as “Blackjackets”.

According to BugGuide, the Aerial Yellowjackets normally build the exposed, papery nests that look kind of like a giant gray onion. And since this was what the nest looked like before we peeled off the outer protective layer, it is safe to assume that they yellowjackets were the primary builders and “landlords” of the nest. The Blackjackets, on the other hand, are more known for building their nests in small cavities like mouseholes, crevices, or holes in rotting wood. So they appear to be the “tenants”.

I have no idea how common this sort of dual-tenancy might be. As long as neither one starts preying on the grubs of the other, it seems like this sort of arrangement would not really be an issue and might even be mutually beneficial. It’s not as if they are serious competitors with each other for food, and together they could make a larger and better-defended nest than either could alone. And since wasps leave their nests to mate, they aren’t even going to have an increased likelihood of inter-species mating attempts.

I suppose if I want to find out how common this is, I could advertise as a chemical-free wasp-removal service. Then, people could call me to remove the nests, and I could dissect a bunch of them to see how often I find multiple species. This particular case was easy to notice because the two species were very easy to distinguish, but it may be that other yellowjacket species that resemble each other more closely also share nests like this without anyone ever being the wiser.

One Response
  1. Tim permalink
    September 5, 2023

    I’m sure you’ve googled already, and found just one or two articles that document this behaviour…so it does seem like a rare occurrence!
    Not all wasp nests will be this easy to remove, so your wasp-removal service will need a lot of caveats in the fine-print!

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