Readers’ wildlife photographs

Epic wasp battle! This series of photos, with that title, was sent in by reader Mark Sturtevant. His notes are indented:

I had recently sent some pictures about insects attracted to wind-fallen apples in our yard. Among the insects were downy yellowjackets (Vespula flavopilosa), which are social insects—but that does not mean they always got along. Yes, some tolerated each other, perhaps recognizing a nest-mate, but other encounters between them were not friendly. When rival wasps met, one would generally shoo away the other turning toward them, jaws agape, and with slightly raised wings. The other was then supposed to flee.

The first picture shows how encounters between rivals would generally start. The wasp on the right is clearly signaling the other to scram. But in this case, the other wasp just would not get the message. Perhaps the interloper had come to believe that it owned this apple as well. What followed was what I like to call an Epic Wasp Battle. I watched several of these encounters between these two wasps, but I never did see if they ever resolved their differences.


The next five pictures shows the resulting battle that began with the first picture. Here, the aggressor charges in but is met with resistance by its opponent, and so the two roll around for a couple seconds. Shortly after they would move apart. But the aggressor wasp would soon notice the interloper, and the whole sequence would repeat, as shown in the last photo.






Just some final comments. First, neither wasp seemed willing to escalate by actually harming the other. I never saw one bite the other, nor did I see any stingers come out.  Second, I expect that all of us have noticed this sort of conflict between wasps over sugary sources such as an open soda can. I for one never gave them more than a glance. But seen up close, these battles do look pretty dramatic!


  1. Aldo Matteucci
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    From the pictures,one surmises that the wasps have different face markings allowing to distinguish friend from foe.

    Certain kinds of wasps are able to tell markings apart – a form of recognition close to cognition

  2. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Some great pictures. Maybe they do this to get in shape for enemies?

  3. Tim Harris
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Were they from different nests, one would have thought that stings would be unsheathed, but if they are sisters from the same nest, why would they quarrel? Thinking of bumblebees, and the anarchy that ensues towards the end within the nest, it may be that a similar sort of thing happens with wasps, but it seems very early in the year for such squabbles. Or is it that the wind-fallen apples are so delicious that selfishness breaks out? (I remember drunk and ill-tempered wasps on the fallen pears in our garden when I was a child – but that was autumn.)

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 5, 2016 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      I do not know why some have conflicts and others do not. But the simplest speculation I can think of is that they tolerate a recognized nest-mate (recognizing them by smell or something), and others get the boot.
      As for the battles being pretty harmless, that seems explainable in that many animal conflicts are pretty ritualized if the contended resource is not a do or die sort of resource. There are lots of apples laying around, and so this particular apple is not something to kill or die for. Just my notions, I really don’t know.

  4. Jenny Haniver
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Are there any meliponid bee experts out there who can corroborate what I’ve read? To wit, that some species get drunk on substances like gasoline and will fight their nestmates to the death, decimating the colony.

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted July 5, 2016 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      Not a bee expert at all (they’re only rarely fossilised), but I have never heard that story.
      There are lots of other stories of drunken animals, to which I’ve always attached a large pinch of salt. And a shot of tequila, and a slice of lemon.

  5. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 5, 2016 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    Cool sequence!

    My first thought was “just like typical male posturing.” There’s clearly more than enough for them both but instead of getting on with collecting the sugar, they’re fighting about it.

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted July 5, 2016 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      Maybe the more aggressive wasp is drunk, but these are of course sterile females, facing their last weeks of Autumn.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted July 5, 2016 at 4:08 pm | Permalink


      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted July 5, 2016 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        Hmmm – [self] heads for the Friday night bars with a fertility questionnaire … “I may be gone some time.”

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