Most people I know hate and fear wasps. I’ve always been intrigued by them; they are quite beautiful looking insects – social insects – that have an important role in ecosystems. Their nests are incredible and I found and photographed a large nest constructed this year in our roof cavity.

This nest is about the diameter of a football (soccer ball) and gives you an idea of the intricate structure of a wasp nest made up of thousands of thin fans of paper-like material.

A large, deserted wasp nest in a roof cavity

Close up of the outside structure of the wasp nest showing the intricate
layers and bands of colour in each layer

Unlike honey bees, wasps do not have wax-producing glands and those that make these kinds of nests construct them from a substance derived from wood pulp. They usually chew on dead or weathered wood and you can sometimes find wasps stripping thin layers from man-made wooden objects like park benches, panelling on houses, or exposed window frames. Wasps mix this wood with saliva to produce a paper-like material that is used to construct their nest.

You can see how each fanned layer of paper is made up of bands of different colour. This is presumably because the layers have been progressively built up by wasps returning with wood pulp sourced from different types and colours of wood.

The final effect is really beautiful and it’s impressive to think that this kind of large organised structure, which houses the queen’s larvae in combs and regulates temperature, is the result of thousands of individual wasps working together. It is only used for one season before being abandoned as the winter approaches and the majority of the colony dies from cold.