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Saturday, 25th May  2019 1:09:am

wasp nestwasp nest - taken by the author, Bill Tschan, showing larvae and a newly developed waspDuring the wet season in Aitutaki, (November to April) a very common insect in the plantations, the bush and the Secret Garden, is the ordinary Wasp

Paper wasps have some beneficial value as predators of pest caterpillars, however they have a painful sting and will attack any person approaching or disturbing their nest.
It is therefore best to keep away from these nests since the wasps do not attack when away from their nest.

Life history

Paper wasps are a social wasp consisting of small colonies of 12-20 individuals.
Adult wasps feed on nectar and make 'paper' nests by mixing saliva and wood fibres.
Nests are a nursery where larvae are kept one to each cell.
The larvae are fed on chewed-up caterpillars caught by the adults.
The cells are then capped and the larvae pupate. Most paper wasps die in autumn or winter, while some hibernate to start new nests next season.

 

Description:

Polistes humilis or common paper wasps are generally slender with long thin wings.
They are 10-15 millimetres long, tan in colour with darker bands and some yellow on the face.
Other species of paper wasps are larger or smaller and differently coloured.
Paper wasps make nests of grey papery wood fibre material.
The nests are cone-shaped, becoming round as more cells are added.
Nests are a maximum diameter of 10-12 centimetres, with numerous hexagonal cells underneath, some with white caps.
Nests are exposed and suspended by a short stalk under an overhang, often on a pergola, the eaves of a roof or in a shrub or tree.

Because many of these species live in colonies, if one stings you, you may be stung by many. Although most stings cause only minor medical problems, some stings may cause serious medical problems

Because wasp larvae is high in protein and low in fat, people in many countries, especially in South East Asia, eat these larvaes. They are acceptable in taste (which is a bit like a raw, yellow egg-yolk) and quite nourishing, the wasp larvae is a very healthy food. Scientists have announced that, pound for pound, these larvae contains more protein than does beef. It is for that reason that, when I find these nests, I pull them off the tree and have a healthy snack. This also helps to reduce the chance of getting stung in the future.

Kakaia on branch of Flamboyant treeKakaia in Flamboyant treeThere is rather limited bird life on Aitutaki island. The most celebrated one would be the very rare Kuramo’o or Blue Lorikeet. Some years back, a six-weeks survey of this bird was done by a couple of students from Birmingham University in England and they thought there were about 3’000 Kuramo’o living on the island. (they told us there were a very limited number on a couple of small islands in French Polynesia) Since that survey, we experienced a very strong cyclone (Pat) in 2010, after which there were very few birds around. The Blue Lorikeet has since recovered and they are almost a common sight again, flying around Banana plantations or my Bottle-brush trees in the early mornings and late in the afternoons. They like to feed on the nectar of these two trees. 

Then there is the Torea or Pacific Golden-Plover which can be seen during Aitutaki’s summer, picking worms and insects on the plantations. In our winter, the Torea migrates to the summer in Alaska, making a short stop-over in Hawai’i on the way.  Fledgling Kakaia resting on Mango tree branch.Fledgling Kakaia resting in Mango tree 

Of course there are thousands of the Indian Myna-birds which were originally brought to Aitutaki in 1906 by the then New Zealand Administration to combat, amongst others, a wasp-plague. (some say ……combat the stick insect.) At that time, some 108 years ago, anybody found to have killed a Myna was fined 5 pounds by the Government. And today, this introduced pest is not only one of the reasons why there is very limited bird life, but is doing a lot of damage to fruit-crops as well as invading hotels in search of scraps.

On Aitutaki, it is a daily sight to see the snow-white Kakaia (white Tern) floating in the wind on and off the island. This beautiful seabird is not only nesting on the sand of some of the uninhabited motus inside the Aitutaki lagoon, it can also be seen having their ‘nest’ in trees, like my yellow Flamboyant- or Mango tree in the Secret Garden. Every year, there are two sitting on the branches until such time when they get ‘the knack’ of flying.

 

Aitutaki Lagoon