Wasps first appeared in the fossil record in the Jurassic period, and diversified into many surviving super-families by the Cretaceous period. They are a successful and diverse group of insects with tens of thousands of described species; wasps have spread to all parts of the world except for the Polar Regions. The largest social wasp is the Asian giant hornet, at up to 5cm (2.0 in). All adult wasps feed on sweet liquids that are packed with high-energy sugars that they gain from the nectar of flowers making them valuable pollinators. All worker wasps are female and only female wasps have stingers. These stings can be fatal to humans by causing the body to go into anaphylactic shock so care should be taken when wasps are in the area.
Queens are larger than normal wasps (about 20mm) and will go into hibernation at the end of autumn to sleep all over winter. All other wasps will likely die out; not by the popular belief of the cold, but through starvation due to the lack of food from flowers and other insects. Spiders are also responsible for killing a large number of queens because they share the same crevices and sheltered spaces. Only sexually mated queens will survive over the winter but it’s believed that roughly 2 queens out of every 4500 from the prior year will survive to establish successful nests. The queen will wake up in the spring when temperatures reach on average 10°C in the shade. She then begins to make her nest, requiring thousands of trips to collect wood, which she’ll pulp, into papier-mache with her saliva to build the nest. The general incubation period is found to be five days, but it can occasionally be as long as seven days due to cannibalism, scavenging or replacement. The larval period can depend on the tropic condition inside and outside of the nest.
Diet: Flies, aphids, caterpillars and other invertebrates
Lifespan: In social wasps, workers (sterile females) 12-22 days, drones have a slightly longer, and queens average 12 months.
Size: up to 5cm depending on species
Weight: upto 0.8 g depending on species
Habitat: The Common wasp throughout the UK in almost all habitats, including woodland and urban areas nesting frequently inside homes and buildings.
Range: Northern Hemisphere, native to Europe, Northern Africa, and temperate Asia. South America (Argentina and Chile), Australia, and New Zealand.
Scientific name: Vespula vulgaris
If there are abundant resources of food being brought into the nest, the larval period is short. The first adult emerges after around 23 days of hatching and the queen-pupated brood is completed in about a month. A queen will decide that the time is right to create new queens and drones (male wasps) that will carry the species forward into the next year. What triggers this decision is not known but the remarkable thing is that it is coordinated with all of the other wasp nests countrywide. This takes a few weeks to coincide with all the other nests, which require advanced planning, the complexity of which is far from being understood.
Once the potential queens and drones leave the nest the queen then stops laying eggs which is then the demise of the nest because without grubs the worker wasps don’t get any food and start to starve.
Wasp or Bee?
• Most bees will have some furry hairs on whilst wasps have none.
• Wasps are bright yellow and black whilst most bees, with the exception of the bumble, are orange/gingery and black.
• Bees are not interested in your sweets or booze as flowers are their food of choice
• Wasps will be a nuisance around food waste, sugary drinks and alcohol as well as feeding on insects.
• Bees are gentle natured and reluctant to sting, as opposed to wasps who are aggressive natured and will sting repeatedly.
• Worker wasps are all sterile females and will forage for over a mile in search of food.
A wasp’s diet consists mainly of insects, but during the months August- October they have more of a taste for sugary delights from flowers and sweet substances, resulting in them causing a nuisance to humans.
Social wasps generally build their nests inside something; this can be a roof space/loft, garden shed, inside an air-brick or even in the ground.
Wasp stings are made up of an alkaline so an acid substance can be used to neutralise the pain. Bees are the opposite and acid, so an alkaline substance may help reduce symptoms. A sting can be treated with deodorant containing aluminum. If allergic an antihistamine should help bring the swelling down.
A drone will mate with a queen and then die due his reproductive organs exploding. The trauma is so severe he can’t survive.
The venom in wasps contains a pheromone that attracts other worker wasps and causes them become more aggressive.
• Only female wasps have stingers and all worker wasps are female.
• Potential queens and drones from the same nest use facial recognition to prevent cross-breeding.
• One nest may produce 30,000 wasps in a year.
A powdered insecticide is used to eradicate the nest by piecing a hole in the nest and injecting the spray.
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