Paper wasps + clever biologist = rainbow nests

Paper wasps, in the family Vespidae in the order Hymenoptera (you should know the order), are likely familiar to you from their gray nests, which look and feel as if they were made out of stiff paper.

In fact, they are made of paper, but paper manufactured by the wasp long before humans hit on the method. The female wasps macerate wood fibers that, mixed with their saliva, break down the wood down into paper, which is then shaped by workers into lovely hexagonal cells, like these:

But what if you actually gave them paper, and then gave them colored paper? One clever biologist asked those questions. Here’s the answer from This Is Colossal:

It’s unnerving to discover a wasp’s nest dangling outside your house, but perhaps it would be a tad less so with the help of biology student Mattia Menchetti who cleverly realized he could give colored construction paper to a colony of European paper wasps. By gradually providing different paper shades, the wasps turned their homes into a functional rainbow of different colors. This isn’t the first time scientists have encountered insects producing colorful materials with the aid of artificial coloring. In 2012, residue from an M&M plant caused local bees to make blue and green honey, and a similar—though admittedly more tragic—incident involving bees and the dye used in Maraschino cherries occured recently in New York. You can see more of Menchetti’s experiment on his website. (via Booooooom)

This is what you get:


h/t: Kurt Helf


  1. GBJames
    Posted May 4, 2018 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Very cool!

  2. Barry Lyons
    Posted May 4, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic. Love this.

    • Glenda Palmer
      Posted May 4, 2018 at 7:57 pm | Permalink


  3. Lars
    Posted May 4, 2018 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

    I’ve heard of caddis-fly larvae being persuaded to build colourful cases by depriving them of their old cases and supplying them with multi-coloured gravel which they use to build new cases.
    They can get pretty elaborate and decorative – see

    • Mark Sturtevant
      Posted May 4, 2018 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I had heard of that as well. Good to be reminded.

    • David Coxill
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 7:02 am | Permalink

      In one of his Corfu books Gerald Durrell wrote he tried doing the same thing .

  4. Ken Pidcock
    Posted May 4, 2018 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Shame about the honey. I’d have bought a jar just to tell the story.

  5. Posted May 4, 2018 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Pretty nests but it is still hard to look at wasps and not get a tinge of apprehension.

  6. Posted May 4, 2018 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Pretty nests but it is still hard to look at wasps and not get a tinge of apprehension.

  7. Filippo
    Posted May 4, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    “It’s unnerving to discover a wasp’s nest dangling outside your house . . . .”

    That’s nothing compared to the unnerving experience and profound surprise of getting stung on the head by hornets while innocently mowing the grass around ones house at dusk and crossing an invisible “red line” beneath a hornet nest dangling from the eave of the house. (Which resulted in my making a “bee” line for the local grocery store to acquire a top-of-the-line high pressure hornet spray, wreaking my lethal vengeance no more than thirty minutes later.)

  8. loren russell
    Posted May 4, 2018 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    Even weirder when the researchers discover that the tie-dye wasps are playing Grateful Dead on their headphones!

    • Melanie
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      Haha! Nothin’ left to do but smile, smile, smile…

  9. Posted May 4, 2018 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    Such colorful wasp’s nests would be much more fun to see on the eaves of my house than the ones I see now. However, how can I spread the creativity to the wasps choosing to live in the ground, that live under the house or in walls, and on roofs? Humans trying to escape the wrath of mad wasps is not funny to the escapee who may be injured by hard impediments as well as the wasps. Maybe, one should always be prepared with a canister of wasp spray when outdoors.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted May 5, 2018 at 1:32 am | Permalink

      We’ve had wasps setting up nests in a pencil cypress right by our back door, and also in holes in the ground. Both of these are easy to deal with – a can of fly spray and a can of crawling insect killer (the cheapest supermarket brand will do, no point wasting money on the nasty things) squirted very generously (like, half the can at a time) into and around the entrance. Next day, a gratifying absence of wasps.


  10. Posted May 4, 2018 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

    Awesome note about paper wasp

  11. nicky
    Posted May 5, 2018 at 6:21 am | Permalink

    I see -to my surprise- that several commenters here are keen on spraying pesticides.
    Depending on the species, wasps will not sting you unless you disturb them.
    I have half a dozen red paper wasp nests under the overhang of my house. Not rainbow coloured, but still little marvels.
    In 16 years only one man was stung (need I add he tried to remove the nests?).
    Of course if you or some others in your house are allergic to the sting, one would consider pesticides, or -even better- relocation of the nests by a professional, IMMO.

    • Posted May 5, 2018 at 4:46 pm | Permalink

      My son-in-law was stung by wasps while cleaning tree detritus from the top of my garage (also he could have been injured when he came down the ladder very fast), and under the house he not only was stung but hit his head on wood or cement while trying to get out fast. My husband was stung when remodeling our house and found wasps had set up a nest between the walls. My lawn maintenance man was stung by wasps near the shop building when accidentally running the mower over nest in the ground. In some situations, you can’t help but stir up or anger wasps, and insecticide is useful then. And, some of us are more allergic to insect stings than others. I won’t spray them if they won’t sting me.

  12. Melanie
    Posted May 5, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

    How wonderful!

  13. meganarucker
    Posted May 7, 2018 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    They are so fantastic

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