Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Paper wasps at nest hanging from a dry cattail leaf

with 32 comments

On September 14th at the Riata Trace Pond I found some paper wasps (Polistes sp.) building their nest on a dry cattail leaf. They kept on with their work and I with mine, which included photographing them.

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I recently came across Shane Trotter’s good article “Remedial Education for All,” which I recommend to you. Here are a couple of passages from the article:

The unfortunate reality is that ability and upbringing really do matter. Even the best teachers usually won’t make a dent against a home environment that does not value education. This is not to suggest that schools should ignore the needs of students who are less talented, have harder home lives, or come from less academic pedigrees. Indeed, it is necessary and wonderful that teachers are passionate about trying to reach such students. But we can’t expect teachers to reliably compensate for large voids. Even more, we can’t stunt the development of all students in the name of this naive pursuit.

As calls for equality of outcome gain steam and schools make plans to reduce educational gaps that have been exacerbated by 18 months of virtual learning, we’d do well to remember the predictable costs of pretending we can make everything fair. Mass education will never be a perfect fit for everyone. Schools have to identify the competencies and attitudes that are most valuable and optimize in a way that brings the most possible students to high, yet reachable standards. When high school students fall too far behind and decide they aren’t interested in catching up, they should be able to pursue a vocational track that pushes them to develop other meaningful skills. These students will be far more likely to apply themselves if we give them relevant options like work apprenticeships, trade programs, and so on.

At its core, this is about maintaining the integrity of the learning environment. Too many in education today have no sense of the value that certain skills and habits of mind can have in people’s lives (or that these are the skills of which a high school diploma is supposed to indicate mastery). Education, to them, is just a prop to be given out in hopes of advancing a person’s social positioning. They are willing to compromise standards at every turn in order to manufacture achievements that society has predetermined as “good.” But in the process, they devalue those outcomes and the surrounding educational culture.

I’ve been pointing out many of the same problems with education for years, even decades, as you’ve also heard in the last two posts.

© 2021 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

September 16, 2021 at 4:36 AM

Posted in nature photography

Tagged with , , , , ,

32 Responses

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  1. The wasps where I live have been a little relentless in house building and boy do they not like when you invade their space. Have a paper wasp nest in our lime tree, which of course is producing right now and the baby wasps are aggressive. Then the mud wasps just build mud houses whereever (e.g. window screens, etc.). This is a cool capture and getting a close up of the action! Happy Day – Enjoy 🙂


    September 16, 2021 at 7:09 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear the baby wasps near you are aggressive. Fortunately the paper wasps shown here didn’t much mind when I got as close as I did—or more accurately when the far end of my lens did. One wasp briefly flew off to a farther place but soon came back. None of these wasps made moves that looked like they would attack me. I’m not complaining.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2021 at 10:51 AM

  2. These wasps are to be admired for building a nest so late in the season. Perhaps they are preparing a shelter for the coming winter. I am sure you will have the answer. Steve.

    Peter Klopp

    September 16, 2021 at 8:07 AM

    • Well, down here it’s not so late in the season. Afternoon temperatures in Austin through next Tuesday are predicted to remain in the mid-90s (35°C), and the average high temperature for the month of October in Austin is 82°F (28°C). I just looked up the average first autumn freeze here and found it’s between November 29th and December 5th. If you’re a wasp, you’ve still got plenty of time to do your thing here.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2021 at 11:03 AM

      • If I were a wasp I would emigrate to Texas. But I love our place in BC where the four seasons follow almost precisely the pattern dictated by the calendar.

        Peter Klopp

        September 17, 2021 at 9:37 AM

        • You’re not alone. Plenty of people who moved here from further north miss having four distinct seasons. Me, I don’t at all miss having to endure 5 months of winter each year.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 17, 2021 at 10:29 AM

  3. They’re such attractive creatures: color and design both. It always surprises me how large these nests can become, despite that slender attachment. The largest one I’ve found was about the size of a softball, but it had the same sort of attachment.


    September 16, 2021 at 8:47 AM

    • The attachment in this picture is so prominent that I’ve been wondering about it, in particular what it’s made of and how much weight it can support. The little bit of searching I did turned up information about the papery part of the structure but not about the attachment. I’m with you in finding the patterns and colors of these paper wasps attractive.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2021 at 11:36 AM

  4. These are my eternal enemies.


    September 16, 2021 at 8:51 AM

    • I’m sorry to hear that but I understand your position. As a wanderer in nature I didn’t have to worry about having wasps living close to me.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2021 at 10:55 AM

  5. Macro view is remarkable

    Yoli B

    September 16, 2021 at 10:47 AM

    • Today’s post originally had a picture showing wasps of this kind at a different nest a few weeks earlier. I got pretty close for that photograph but two days ago I managed to get even closer, so I substituted the new picture for the older one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2021 at 10:54 AM

  6. Another great tribute to your sharp eyes. They are indeed wonderfully handsome when their details are so well presented.


    September 16, 2021 at 5:49 PM

    • The sharpness I can take credit for is having realized it would be worthwhile putting a flash on the camera. Once I did that, I switched to manual mode and set an aperture of f/22 for the maximum depth of field the lens was capable of.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 16, 2021 at 8:51 PM

  7. Although a different species, mine were Dark Paper Wasps, I found a nest building crew at work on my wood pile. Industrious little biters. Yours are nicely colored with those red tones.

    Steve Gingold

    September 17, 2021 at 3:07 AM

    • I looked up the dark paper wasp to see the different coloration. In the article about that species in iNaturalist I found something interesting: “Polistes fuscatus has the capability to not only recognize where wasps of their population may fall in the hierarchy, but may also be able to recognize individual nest-mates through specific facial and abdominal markings.”

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2021 at 8:54 AM

      • I have no doubt that they and many other species are able to tell each other apart much as we can amongst ourselves. We might all look alike to them as they do to us.

        Steve Gingold

        September 17, 2021 at 1:34 PM

        • I’ve wondered about that, too. Last month I asked Lori how her deer react in the presence of people other than her and her husband. She said they recognize when someone is a stranger and are leery of that person.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 17, 2021 at 2:43 PM

  8. The colours and patterning of these wasps are especially attractive. Great detailing, Steve!

    Peter Hillman

    September 17, 2021 at 4:01 AM

    • And these wasps are fairly common here, so I get to see them from time to time. In fact this was the second active nest I found in a month.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2021 at 8:56 AM

  9. The wasps are beautiful and you took a good picture of them. Yes it would be nice if there were more opportunities for less educated people to work in the USA. There is nothing wrong with not wanting to pursue higher education and it is not productive to push everyone to do it. But big companies make more money exporting manufacturing jobs to other countries.

    Alessandra Chaves

    September 17, 2021 at 7:11 AM

    • Using flash and so being able to stop down to f/22 let me get important parts of all three wasps in focus simultaneously.

      To me it’s crazy that so many politicians keep pushing “College for all.” It’s as unrealistic as saying every 20-year-old should go into professional sports.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2021 at 9:06 AM

      • My step son is one such case, he didn’t want to go to college. He has a tough time in low paying jobs that do not offer a career path for less educated employees. He works hard and is very responsible but when a promotion comes up it’s given to someone w a college degree.

        Alessandra Chaves

        September 17, 2021 at 9:17 AM

        • I’m sorry to hear of his struggles. To my mind, the only thing that should matter in a business is how well a person does the job. (I’ve often said that about teaching: all the should matter is how well a teacher can teach, not what stupid education courses the person has been forced to take.) As formal credentials have become more common—and therefore more meaningless—businesses keep wanting employees to have more and more of them. It’s crazy.

          Steve Schwartzman

          September 17, 2021 at 10:35 AM

          • University professors have little training on how to teach, if any.

            Alessandra Chaves

            September 17, 2021 at 10:49 AM

            • And I’d say that in general there’s no loss from the lack of training, given that the how-to-teach courses offered in education departments are almost universally a waste of time. That said, it could be useful to have veteran teachers offer occasional subject-specific workshops about effective teaching techniques they’d developed over the years.

              Steve Schwartzman

              September 17, 2021 at 1:00 PM

  10. I am fascinated by camouflage in nature. The detail of your wasps is outstanding – not only showing how beautifully marked they are but having the appearance of being threatening – ready for battle! I do a good bit of hiking in the autumn and winter when wasp nests are easier to spot along the edge of the woods when leaves have fallen from trees and shrubs. I have collected some nests that are bigger than my hands. The attaching stem of the nest is very difficult to break loose so most of the time I remove a small portion of the twig/branch to keep everything intact.


    September 17, 2021 at 7:33 AM

    • I appreciate your testimonial about the nest’s attachment stem being difficult to break loose. I’ve wondered what makes it so hard and durable but haven’t yet found an answer.

      As for looking like they’re ready for battle, wasps of this kind have never attacked me (at least not that I remember). One website says paper wasps “prey mainly on insects and tend to avoid humans when possible. To avoid their wrath, try to avoid their nesting sites.” Well, today’s picture shows I didn’t avoid their nesting site, but these wasps didn’t make any move to come after me.

      Like you, I sometimes come across the remains of abandoned nests as I wander around.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2021 at 9:16 AM

  11. I’ve only seen these built on our house!! Cool photo


    September 17, 2021 at 4:48 PM

    • Long before people learned to build houses, wasps like these were building nests suspended from plants.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 17, 2021 at 4:54 PM

  12. These really are industrious little creatures. I love that you caught them so early in the process, and I’m fascinated by that little bit holding the nest to the leaf.

    Todd Henson

    September 22, 2021 at 8:25 AM

    • Almost as industrious as the wasps are some nature photographers who depict them.
      Several of us have wondered about the ligature holding the papery nest to the structure it hangs from.

      Steve Schwartzman

      September 22, 2021 at 8:55 AM

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