4• Battle: Bold-faced hornet vs Paper wasp

An example from earlier this year of a shorter blog-type post that will be the most common post type here.

4• Battle: Bold-faced hornet vs Paper wasp

Text and photos by LensAfield

[As I am beginning this site in late December, when there are no good outside subjects to shoot and write about, I will show this example from earlier in the year of a blog-type short post that will be the bulk of what I will produce here.]

Previously, I have written a three-part series on life-and-death struggles in worlds we rarely see. Here is one of the billions happening all around, all the time.

I was shooting various subjects in my little swamp milkweed patch when out of the corner of my eye, I caught some movement in a biota shrub about 6 feet away. On closer inspection, I saw a bald-faced hornet —a very aggressive predator—trying to take down a paper wasp.

Bald-faced hornets are constantly zipping around, hunting. If I see one not in flight, it is a sure bet something is happening, as in, it has located prey, landed to attack and finish it off.

The bald face hornet has massive mandibles which it uses to kill and then butcher its victims into neat little packets it carries back to the nest to feed developing larvae.

What had caught my attention was the two of them entangled together, tumbling around in a ball of ferocious physical frenzy and angry buzzing on the surface of the shrub. Without the aid of a camera and fast flash, the details of the action would never have been observed or appreciated.

In the banner image, we see the two combatants fully engaged. Notice the stinger is out on the paper wasp as it defends against the larger assailant.

While not fully visible, we can gauge the size and spread of the mandibles on the bald-faced as it looks to chop off the wasp’s head or abdomen.

As the grappling continues, the hornet has squeezed the mandibles of the wasp shut, and we have a clearer view of the size of those mandibles compared to the wasp’s.
Unable to cleanly cut off the head or abdomen, the bald-face is chomping on whatever it can get those jaws on.

It continues to attempt cutting, squeezing, or ripping anything that presents an opportunity.
A clear view of how wide a bite the bald-face can take. There appears to be a tear in the left wing of the paper wasp.
Going for the crushing head bite. The cut in the wing is now obvious. This image is darker, probably because I was shooting so fast the flash couldn’t recharge in time for this shot.
The size difference between the two combatants is clear here. The paper wasp’s stinger is out again.

There was a final furious burst of action, then the bald-faced disengaged and flew off (the wings are just beginning their flight motion as seen by the beginning of the wings blurring).

Somewhere in a final flurry of activity, the paper wasp sustained some severe damage. Can you see it?

The bald-face seemed so close to winning yet disengaged and quickly flew away. Did the paper wasp deliver some venomous stings that altered the course of the battle and saved it from almost certain death and dismemberment?

The paper wasp fell to the ground, apparently unable to fly. It was seriously injured, having great difficulty moving, not able to walk normally. Why? Because the two front legs are gone. It can’t hold its head and thorax up off the ground and so was struggling to push and plow itself to the safety of some ground cover about a foot away.

The missing legs are clear in all images. The carapace around the abdomen is damaged. Both wings are damaged. It is likely it couldn’t fly and so was doomed. In the third image, it was frantically sweeping that leg, trying to get some traction to propel itself forward. If the hornet had returned at this point, the outcome would have been certain and swift. It is hard for me to believe it would waste this much effort and abandon its prize unless it was in an equally perilous state from the wasp’s stings.

It made it to the safety of the groundcover, and I never saw it again. The only thing known for sure is that the wasp did not become parts for the hornet to bring back to the nest. I would have no idea if either survived the battle. It is quite possible it resulted in a mutually fatal draw.