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Photo#451691
Yellowjacket - Vespula maculifrons - female

Yellowjacket - Vespula maculifrons - Female
Gates, Gates County, North Carolina, USA
September 5, 2010
Size: 12mm
Vespula maculifrons worker Found a large group (hundreds) of these covering a crape myrtle plant. Not at all aggressive or defensive, despite me bumping into the plant while photographing them - they did fly around me and checked me out, but didn't attempt to land on me or sting me. Curious as to the behavior they are exhibiting - they have been visiting this plant en mass for about a week now.

Moved
Moved from ID Request.

Hemipterans
I've seen the same situation on an alder infested with scale insects. The sugary secretions on the leaves were attracting lots of Dolichovespula maculata and Vespula maculifrons, if I recall correctly.

 
Aphids and honeydew ...
There are aphids present (significant numbers of them), but the yellowjackets are not staying on the undersides of the leaves where the aphids are. I watched them for over an hour one morning - they actually seem to avoid the aphids, in preference of the upper surface of the leaves. This is what has me confused. They are roaming very nervously about the topsides of the leaves. They don't even seem to slow down long enough to eat anything they may be finding on the leaves. They do spend quite a bit of time cleaning their antennae - could that be how they are gathering whatever it is they are interested in? Still, pretty cool to get an up-close look at yellowjacket behavior! If I weren't allergic, I would be tempted to stick with them for a while ...

ill bet that
if you touch those leaves theyre sticky..ive seen this too in oregon..usually associated with aphids like someone said.. but also some trees are just sticky at this time of year.

Look on the underside of leaves!
I think I see little white spots. That may explain what is going on. Aphids are common pests on Crape Myrtles, and aphids will excrete a substance called honeydew. It's an excess of sugars taken from the tree as the aphids feed on the sap.

This substance is BUG GOLD. A huge number of species will seek this honeydew out. Even birds like Hummingbirds and Warblers! I am certain you have an infestation of aphids on your tree, and these guys are enjoying the side effects of the infestation. They are probably very happy and sugar-stuffed. I think all bees, wasps and hornets are most peaceful when full of sugar.

Vespula maculifrons - Yes
I've witnessed the same thing on two different occasions. Once in my own yard on a maple tree, and once down in Carolina on a young willow tree. It is all still blurry to me too, but I have gathered that the wasps are coming for the purpose of feeding on something sweet, possibly produced by the plant as a reaction to something. And the plant has no level of attraction for wasps in the succeeding years, so it is a one time only type of thing

Maybe someone else can provide better answers; I have been wondering too

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