The Tramp has encountered on his treks the ball-like nests of paper wasps that hang menacingly from the high-branches of tall-trees in the Morni forests. While identification is not certain but it seems likely that the paper wasps of Morni are ‘Polistes’. The genus ‘polistes’ are the most common type of ‘paper wasps‘ a type of wasps that are so called because they make nests out of paper. They mix fibres extracted from plants and chewed wood with their saliva to build water resistant nests of grey-brown papery material (papier mache).
The red-black paper wasp of Morni is in all likelihood the Polistes perplexus – an inch long red wasp that builds a large paper nest that resembles an upside down umbrella with exposed hexagonal cells. Paper wasps are sometimes also called ‘umbrella wasps’ because of the peculiar shape of their nests. The nest is built around spring by a solitary female or a group of females in the hollow of a tree etc. The nest gradually expands as Queen wasp lays eggs and more cells are added as her daughters hatch out and get busy with feeding the queen and the larvae! The nest reaches its maximum size around autumn when the wasps start leaving the nest and become more visible. P. perplexus and P. carolina are two common species of ‘red’ wasps that closely resemble each other with P. perplexus showing better developed black markings.
Red wasps feed on plant nectar and help in pollination. They are predatory and feed on caterpillars, flies, mosquitoes etc that they are also fed to their larvae inside the nest. This makes them popular pest control agents as they themselves cause no harm to crops but help get rid of the pests particularly the caterpillars. Red wasps are generally non-aggressive but may sting multiple times when threatened. The sting causes a swelling and an itch.
The Tramp encountered a fearsome swarm of the Red-Black Paper Wasps at the Tikkar Cottage at Rasoon that chose to colonize a stand of some three-year old Gulmohur trees for an entire winter. The wasp is locally called ‘Andgal’ by the hillmen and is much feared for its nasty sting that can induce fever. The wasps sucked the sap from the juicy-soft Gulmohur stems and resisted any attempt to chase them off. Attempts to smoke them out from their stronghold invited an ugly reprisal with the wasps choosing to sting the face and head area to punish the aggressors. The Tramp had to dissuade the vengeful gardener from employing insecticides (‘Chemical Warfare’) to avenge the humiliation of being chased-off repeatedly by these ‘Kamikaze’ Red-Black Flying-Warriors. Two of the trees did not survive the winter-long assault by the wasps and eventually dried up.
The Tramp has spotted the large, basketball-sized paper nests of these wasps hanging from the top-most branches of tall trees in the forest around Rasoon. The nest has a single-point of entry and exit for the entire swarm and looks impregnable.