- A-Z Animals
Wasps are among the most recognizable insects globally, infamous for their deadly stings. They show a variety of behaviors, some parasitoid, others predatory, with hornets, mud daubers, and yellowjackets all being known wasp species. Unlike most other parasites, they end up killing their hosts.
Despite being aggressive and an annoying pest, wasps play a crucial role in pest management and act as pollinators to flowering plants. They first appeared way back in the Jurassic era, with more diverse species evolving during the Cretaceous period.
They are split in two categories, social, and solitary. The social wasps form groups led by a queen, consisting of workers and drones, while the solitary wasps are parasitoid in nature, i.e., lay eggs on or in other insects.
Size: Length: 0.0055-2 in (0.139-50 mm)
The smallest known wasps are those belonging to the fairy wasp family, measuring 0.0055 in, while the largest is the social Asian giant hornet at 2 inches.
Weight: 0.0002 lb (90 mg)
In a social group, queens are heavier than other wasps.
Eyes: Wasps possess big compound eyes andseveral simple eyes called ocelli, arranged in a triangular form in front of their vertex.
Stinger: Females have an ovipositor to lay eggs that also can inject venom if wanted. This stinger can be retracted or extended freely in most wasps.
Body and Coloration: The body of a wasp can be divided into three segments – the head, the mesosoma (including the thoraxand first abdominal segment), and the metasoma (lower part of the body). They are covered with an exoskeleton and have a tiny waist called a petiole connecting both abdominal segments. Long and slender wings are present in both genders, with the exception of females in certain species. The wings are held together by hooks, with the forewings being larger than the hindwings.
Wasps have a vast color palette, including red, blue, yellow, and black. For example, yellowjackets are black and yellow while mud daubers are brown.
These insects are cosmopolitan and can be found on every continent except Antarctica.
Wasps can be found in several natural or urban areas. These include cemeteries, meadows, orchards, playgrounds, and woodlands.
They collect wood fibers and mix them with their saliva to create a paste-like substance which is the primary material to build their nests. The nests are mostly constructed in an overhung location, such as roof of a house or a high branch on a tree, and contain several cells in which the queen lays her eggs.
In a colony of social wasps, workers live for around 12-22 days, drones have a slightly longer lifespan, while a queen can live for a year. On the other hand, solitary wasps are known to survive for 3-6 weeks.
The diet of wasps varies from one species to the other. Adult parasitoid wasps feed on the nectar of flowering plants, while non-parasitic specimens feed on spiders or other insects and even on the carcasses of dead animals. In the case of the latter, the adults will sometimes bring back some food to feed their larvae.
Several birds are adept at eating stinging insects, including bee-eaters, honey buzzards, and roadrunners. These predators remove the wasp’s stingers by rubbing them against a twig or rock.
Social wasps mate once a year, after which the males die during the winter. After hibernating throughout the cold seasons, the fertilized female, the queen, emerges during spring. She starts slowly laying eggs, which are looked after by the queen and the workers.
Solitary wasps mate during the spring, following which the female lays eggs close to a food source.
Queen social wasps can control the gender of their offspring by choosing whether or not to fertilize their egg. An unfertilized egg develops into a male wasp, while a fertilized egg becomes a female. Similar to the eggs, the newly hatched larvae are also taken care of by the queen and the workers until they mature.
Solitary wasp females are able to avoid inbreeding by recognizing chemicals emitted by certain males. They take care of their young larvae most of the time, which survive winter via pupation. After emerging in spring, the adults will be able to mate.
As per the IUCN, currently, no species of wasp are endangered.
Most wasp species play no major role in pollination as they lack the soft furry hairs that allow easy transfer of pollen. However, some of them, like the pollen wasps and fig wasps, function as effective pollinators despite not having hair.
They are important predators, helping to control the populations of several insects like beetles, flies, and true bugs.
No, most wasps do not make honey. However, the Mexican honey wasp creates and stores its own honey.
They sting and also bite. While the bites may generate mild pain, the stings mainly require medical attention.
No, wasps do not leave stingers behind and are capable of stinging multiple times.
Unlike bees, wasps do not die after using their stinger.
No, but they go into a state of dormancy at night.
There are several easily identifiable differences between both insects – bees are more full-bodied while wasps are slimmer, the body of a bee is covered with hair while wasps have smooth bodies, etc.