When wasps dance

Earlier this week I witnessed some insect behavior with which I was previously unfamiliar. (To be fair, I am unfamiliar with, to make a conservative estimate, most insect behavior.) A pair of wasps of the species Polistes major were, to put it simply, crowding each other on our deck box. Sometimes they would face each other, sometimes near, sometimes a bit farther apart. It lasted for hours. I discovered them around 8 a.m. while playing outside with the boys; it was still going on shortly before noon. Right around noon, and I’m not sure exactly when, one of the wasps disappeared. Here’s a little photo gallery of the incident.

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Picture 1 of 8

Polistes major wasps. Boca Raton, FL. November 8, 2012. 8:10 a.m.

This was no high-speed waggle dance like you’ve heard about in a honeybee hive; this was a good old-fashioned slow-motion staredown. For the most part it looked like one wasp was clearly dominant over the other; in one of the shots you can see the submissive wasp tucking her head into the surface of the deck box while the dominant one is crawling over her:

Polistes major dominance display. The wasp on the left appears to be submitting to the wasp on the right. Boca Raton, FL. November 8, 2012.

Of course, to the human eye, particularly an untrained one like mine, there’s no way to tell why the wasp on the left is submitting to the wasp on the right; they appear almost identical to me. But the wasps appear to have sorted out, even if it took a little while.

Presumably the wasp that remains was the victor; I’ve only seen one wasp at a time since noon on Thursday. The one thing that worries me is that the most frequent sighting site is inside my deck box, which is where we store our pool and back yard toys. I don’t want an enraged wasp colony in there when the kids open the box to take out a pool noodle, so I’m going to have to keep a close eye on this situation.