Wasps form the suborder Apocrita of the order Hymenoptera, and there are over 100,000 species in the mentioned order, making the wasp a diverse species.
They are considered a nuisance in human environments and have a bad reputation that may not reflect the behavior of every member of the team.
There are those that buzz, sting and move in groups, and there are the solitary, peaceful ones that do not harm people.
Even the stinging wasps have more pros than cons as they protect agricultural products, contributing to the ecosystem.
Let’s take a deeper look into this insect.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Arthropoda
- Class: Insecta
- Order: Hymenoptera
- Suborder: Apocrita
- Scientific Name: Hymenoptera
- Size: Up to 1.5 inches
- Venom/Poison: Yes
- Skin Type: Shell
- Habitat: Meadows, forests, rock faces
- Range: Worldwide
- Diet: Omnivore
- Life span: 12 days to 1 year
- Life Cycle: 2 to 3 days
- Conservation status: Least Concern
5 Interesting Facts About Wasps
1. There are two types of wasps
Wasps can be classified into two categories: social and solitary. The social ones lives in colonies spearheaded by a queen, who rears worker females in a nest. There are like a thousand species of social wasps, including the yellow jacket and the hornet.
The solitary individual has the majority number of species, with big ones like the cicada killers and the tarantula hawk being part of the group. These folks do not live in colonies but fly and live alone.
2. Wasps can attack repeatedly
Ever wondered why wasps are feared? If you’ve never had an encounter with the social kind, you may not realize why.
When someone (human or animal) disturbs a colony, be sure that they will attack en masse. Their stingers are not barbed like bees, which means they can sting repeatedly.
Even worse, wasps release pheromones to alert others on their team that there’s ‘danger’. The pheromones make others aggressive, so if you get attacked by these insects, you might be battling with an increasing number of stingers.
3. The tarantula hawk is the biggest in the world
The title of the biggest wasp in the world goes to the tarantula hawk, and despite its name, it isn’t a hawk.
It was given this name because it preys on tarantulas. It reaches 2.7 inches in length with wingspans that get up to 4.5 inches.
The tarantula hawk is solitary, but it can sting when threatened. The sting is painful, but not always serious except in some cases, which brings us to the next fact.
4. The sting can kill (sometimes)
A wasp’s sting is not known to be fatal, but if you get stung multiple times you’d have to get treated at a hospital. It can be painful, but generally can be cured with a simple treatment.
However, some cases call for concern. If the affected person is allergic to the bite, it can be deadly to the person, especially if the attack came from a colony. Any allergic person that gets bit should be considered an emergency.
5. Wasps don’t come out of the winter alive (with one exception)
A colony formed by a queen lives all their days during the summer. When winter comes, they start breathing their last.
The only wasp that survives this encounter is the young fertilized queen. This isn’t because she’s stronger, but rather because she hibernates during the winter period.
Solitary types also die off during winter, but their larvae stay through and begin growing during the spring period.
Wasps are often confused with bees because of the similar colors found in both insects. Many species have yellow and black skin like bees, and a good example is a yellowjacket.
They aren’t limited to this color, however. They can be brown, blue, or red as the case may be. The paper wasp is a good example. It is often brown.
Not all species are stingers, but for those that do—often the social kind—only females have the ability to sting. Most species come with wings, but not all.
The more popular species include:
- Hornets: These are the largest social wasps currently living today, with some species getting up to 2.2 inches. They come with stingers good for killing prey and to also defend themselves against threats to their nests. Hornets are considered more dangerous than bees because their sting is more painful and repeated.
- Yellow jackets: These have the standard black and yellow colors, though some individuals are black-and-white or red and yellow. Yellow jackets are as social as hornets, having a queen, workers, and drones.
- Cicada killers: They are solitary, as large as hornets, and named after hunting cicadas. They grow as long as 2 inches.
- Paper wasps: These are social creatures that build their nests using dead woods and plants.
- Mud daubers: They differ from paper wasps in that they use mud to build their nests.
The species considered one of the most notorious is the executioner wasp. It is recognized by its yellow and brown colors, and the pain is regarded as level 4 pain.
A sting can hurt badly, and it is said to last as long as 2 hours. The sting can get healed, but in an allergic person, it can kill.
Distribution and Habitat
Wasps can be found on every continent except Antarctica, and its widespread population means you can meet it in almost all regions in our world.
This is not good and bad, for reasons we’ve already seen but which bears repeating. They are good for the ecosystem but can be stinging nuisances.
Both social and solitary insects live in nests, which are often constructed of crumpled wood that they turn into a honeycomb.
Some species use mud, some are more diverse, and there’s a group that lives on rotten rocks or underground.
The place they build their nests is their habitat, and they often look for an area with minimal disturbance. These include basements and sheds.
Wasps are omnivores, similar to many other insects like bees. They pollinate plants while feeding, which is another contribution they give to the environment.
They eat nectar, fruit, honey, tree sap, and even human food on some occasions. This makes up the plant side of their diet.
However, as omnivores, their diet expands toward animals. They prey on grasshoppers, flies, caterpillars, aphids, and bees. They are relentless hunters and food seekers, sometimes heading far from their homes to find the right meal.
Lifecycle and Mating Process
Reproduction depends largely on the type and species. The lifecycle often falls between 12 and 22 days for both the solitary and social, but exactly how long it takes depends on the species in question.
For social wasps, everything begins with the queen. She’s the one that first constructs a small nest, then she lays eggs which hatch to become worker females.
They hatch these eggs using the sperm they stored from males during mating in autumn. The matured workers continue the nest building that the queen began while the queen lays more. Males die after mating.
Besides completing the nests, workers are also in charge of feeding the larvae. They supply it with insects and other food.
Solitary wasps reproduce in a slightly different way. The female mates with a male, and she builds a home for her young ones.
She also supplies food for her eggs which they consume as they hatch. When the eggs hatch and develop into adults, they continue the work of reproducing. Males often die after reproducing.
Predators and Threats
Wasps have a lot of predators as many different animals include them in their diet. Birds, reptiles, and amphibians are the most common culprits. These animals tend to hunt solitary ones as social colonies put up a tighter defense.
Some insects also pose threats to the wasp. These include dragonflies, praying mantises, robber flies, and even other wasps. Mammals are not excluded either.
Although not all mammals are fans of eating insects, some do. Examples are mice, skunks, rats, and weasels. These mammals could hunt even social wasps, risking attack to get their next meal.
Another threat they face is humans. Besides getting rid of them as pests, wasps are also delicacies in countries like Japan and Laos, usually the larvae.
The caste system apparent in many insects exists amongst wasp species, and they are divided into three categories:
- The Queen
- The worker females
- The drones (male)
As we already mentioned, the queen is responsible for setting up the initial nest and hatching worker wasps, younger queens, and drones. The workers take care of the larvae and the drones have the sole responsibility of mating.
Solitary types have no caste system, and just as the name goes they survive on their own. While this leaves them more at risk of predators, it is how they wound up surviving.
Wasps generally become more aggressive from August to October due to some changes. They need more food and the young queens are out to mate.
During this period, avoid everyone you encounter as much as you can. They are more likely to attack. Also, if you get stung by a wasp do not swat at it. It can release pheromones that would attract more aggressive attackers.
The relationship between wasps and humans is shaky, to say the least. When they are close to human dwellings, they are considered pests due to their annoying buzziness and sting.
Fortunately, there are many good methods you can use to get rid of the disturbing ones in your environment.
These include calling an exterminator, using pesticides, or smoking them out. If they don’t pose any threat to you, you can leave them alone.
Male vs Female
Size is the first obvious difference between male and female wasps. Because female has more roles to play in reproduction and survival, they are bigger than males. Another difference is the lifespan. Females live longer than males.
Also, females possess stingers, not males. They’re the more dangerous sex, and they are the ones that can sting. Males are hardly found except during mating season when they come out to find a female.
The final difference that is more subtle than the ones we’ve mentioned is the number of antenna segments.
This isn’t noticeable with bare eyes, but the male has more than the female. Males have 13 segments while females have 12.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are wasps carnivores?
Though wasps eat insects and smaller invertebrates, they are not considered carnivores. They also feed on nectar and plants, which makes them omnivores.
Do wasps make good pets?
Wasps are wild and usually aggressive, but they can be tamed by someone who’s an expert in the cause. In the hands of the right keeper, wasps can make good pets that will even recognize their owners.
Are wasps dangerous?
Wasps don’t always attack people, especially solitary ones. However, they will go on the offensive if they see you as a threat or if you destroyed their nest. Social wasps move in groups, and they sting more than once. These insects are dangerous.
Do wasps make honey?
Despite their comparison with bees and the fact that they build nests, pollinate flowers and live in a colony, wasps don’t produce honey as bees do. Only the latter has that attribute.
Wasps have their pros and cons. These aren’t insects you should approach in a carefree manner, but you can’t also deny their importance in pollinating the environment and reducing the population of other troublesome insects.
You could get rid of the pesty ones in your environment to avoid getting stung, but the ecosystem needs them just as much as other animals.
We’ve looked into the essentials of this insect, from its scientific classification to gender differences. All these serve to better appreciate our flying neighbors.