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At first glance, this little wasp might look like a yellow jacket.

That is, until you spot the bright orange antennae.

It is actually a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula.

The European paper wasp showed up on the East Coast of the United States in the late 1970s or early 1980s. It has been spreading across North America since.

Public domain photograph by Gary Alpert (Wikimedia)

These wasps build their paper nests out of processed wood bits. They nest under eaves and in similar areas around houses. Paper wasps are less defensive than yellow jackets, for the most part, unless a person gets close to their nest.

In contrast, the eastern yellow jacket, Vespula maculifrons, has black antennae. They nest underground and can be quite defensive if disturbed.

I'm not sure why the paper wasp in the top two photographs has a brown discoloration on the abdomen. It also looks like the wings are damaged. It was trapped inside a greenhouse, where maybe it was looking for weathered wood to build its nest? Perhaps it hurt itself trying to get out?

Have you ever seen European paper wasps where you live?

Earlier in the year I spotted these unusual bumps on a goldenrod stem.

Are they insects or debris?

Looking closer, they are insects. They have legs and eyes.

Can you see the legs now? Don't they look weird? (See more about the white tails below.)

These are planthopper nymphs in the genus Acanalonia.


Public domain photograph from Wikimedia

The adults look like leaf fragments, complete with veins. They spend their lives sucking the juices from plants, so planthoppers use camouflage to survive.

You might wonder about the fuzzy white "tails" on the nymphs. Those strands are made of wax. The nymphs of many different kinds of leafhoppers and planthoppers produce wax and scientists have debated why. The wax repels water (is hydrophobic), so it may protect the nymphs from rainfall. Or the wax may keep certain nymphs from drying out. Because it on the rear of the insects, it is possible the wax spreads out the sticky honeydew they excrete, which help keep the nymphs cleaner.  Finally, the wax may protect the nymphs from predators, either by disguising themselves (like a Halloween costume) or by creating a physical barrier that the predators can't get through.

In this previous post, the adults of a related flatid planthopper also have a light waxy coating.

Have you ever seen a nymph with wax around it? What do you think they use it for?

After posting about the queen caterpillars on our rush milkweeds last week, this week I came across another scene.

Yes, there's a butterfly and a caterpillar. Do you see what is unusual about this?

Let's take a closer look.

Catch it yet?

Maybe if you see the caterpillar more closely?

The caterpillar has two pairs of filaments or "tubercles" that look like antennae. That means it is a monarch butterfly caterpillar, Danaus plexippus.

The butterfly is a queen butterfly, Danaus gilippus. The queen caterpillar has three pairs of tubercles and different patterned stripes (see comparison here).

They are life stages of two different species, although they are related.

Yes, our milkweeds are busy this year.