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One big nest of wasps
School Draw resident learns to live with giant wasps buzzing in her yard

Mike W. Bryant
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 8, 2011

Gail Paquin says she's never seen anything like it.

NNSL photo/graphic

Gail Paquin points to a large wasp nest in her yard on School Draw Avenue. She says it's been growing there for the last two months. - Ian Vaydik/NNSL photo

"We noticed it about two months ago and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger," she says, pointing to a big basketball-shaped object sitting high in the branches of the birch tree growing at the side of her School Draw Avenue home.

It's a wasp nest or that of some sort of large stinging insect. Every once in a while an alarmingly large black and white waspy-looking creature buzzes through the air above an almost equally impressive crop of shaggy mane mushrooms and up into a hole at the bottom of the nest.

Her neighbour Jim Umpherson agrees this is the largest paper wasp nest or wasps he's ever seen.

"There are usually wasp nests around every summer, sometimes they set up in the shed over there," he said, pointing into his yard. "They must be a different kind. They're bigger and blacker than any I've seen."

There are no pest control companies based in Yellowknife, but Doug Wadlow, branch manager for Orkin pest control in Hay River, said his technician travels throughout the territory, including to the city, to deal with creepy-crawly complaints.

He said wasp complaints are common this time of year.

"We get hundreds, we've been getting them from the first week of August," said Wadlow. "That's when people really begin to notice them."

Despite the high latitude of the territory, many species of wasps, hornets and yellowjackets -- all members of the insect family Vespidae -- thrive here, he said.

Site unseen, Wadlow was uncertain what sort of wasp or hornet might be dwelling in Paquin's birch tree, but he added paper nests in trees can grow to an impressive size.

The good news is that none of the wasp species residing in the North are particularly aggressive, unless provoked, he said.

In the North, most wasps the majority of which are sterile female workers -- die off at the onset of winter. Young queens though, which, if the nest is not underground, will find a safe place to survive the winter until spring, when they fly off to start new colonies.

One possible candidate species for Paquin's nest is the bald-faced hornet, which is typically black and white in colour unlike other yellowjacket relatives, and is well-known for its habit of building large paper nests in trees.

Paquin said she has no plans for removing the nest, but rather will wait until nature and winter take their course.

"We can co-habit," said Paquin.

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