Wasp Life Cycle
Wasps And The Wasp Life Cycle
Although this website is about bees, it is relevant to add a little information about wasps. For one thing, it is believed that bees descended from sphecoid wasps.
Additionally, whilst many people do not like wasps, it is worth remembering that many commonly-feared species, (sometimes referred to as the yellow jacket wasp), are not only excellent pollinators, they also help to control aphids and other insects known to eat garden crops.
There are also a number of similarities between some wasp and bee species.
In fact, the wasp life cycle is short, and similar to the bumblebee or solitary bee, depending on the type of wasp.
The wasp life cycle
There are many different types of wasps. This page provides a broad description of the wasp life cycle for social and solitary wasps, but there are differences between species.
Social wasps live in colonies within large nests, (which tend to resemble paper), and as with social bees, the colony is dominated by a queen. As with bees, the queen lays all the eggs, whilst worker wasps tend to nest and colony duties, such as caring for eggs and larvae, nest building, foraging for food and defending the nest from attack, however, the queen must do the work in the early stages of establishing her colony.
Hibernating, wasp queens emerge during the spring. They will have mated with males the previous year, and are thus fertilized. Their first task is to begin building their nests, usually from bits of dead wood and plant material which is chewed to form the papery walls. Inside the nest, the queen also builds egg cells, where the eggs are laid and where larvae can develop into worker wasps. Once sufficient larvae have developed into mature wasps, the queen will no longer forage or engage in general nest duties – all of which will now be left to the workers, and instead, she will devote her time to laying more eggs.
Eventually, males and new queens will be produced. The queens will leave the nest, mate and hibernate until the following year. Meanwhile, the rest of the colony will die, as is the case with bumblebee colonies. The old nest will not be re-used, whereas in some cases, bumblebee nests might be used by future generations of bumblebees but only if the site is in suitable condition.
As with bees, most wasps are solitary. Solitary wasp females emerge from hibernation and are responsible for constructing their nests, laying eggs and providing the larvae with food. Solitary wasps are generally not aggressive, and it is said that they are far less likely to sting.
The wasp life cycle is such that they are, on balance, beneficial in the garden, since they take young aphids and caterpillars that eat crops in spring, and they also pollinate plants. However, they also will eat some soft fruits, and they will attack bee nests, usually hunting for larvae. However, I have many times witnessed bees and wasps foraging on the same shrub. Nature is not wasteful, and whilst it is easy to be critical when one creature preys on another, it is important to remember that mankind is not only a predator, humans are also the biggest threat to most creatures due to their activity on the environment, and sometimes shockingly, and wastefully so.
Note that some bees and hoverflies can be wrongly mistaken for wasps, although when viewing images closely, the differences may seem fairly obvious for some of the species.
Below is a picture of a commonly seen wasp (a German Wasp - Vespula germanica):
Below is a Wool Carder Bee (Anthidium manicatum):
Image: courtesy of www.cirrusimage.com and from 'Wikipedia Commons' - (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license).
...and here is a hoverfly...
...pictured below is a honey bee.
It should be noted that there is, however, tremendous variation in the appearance of wasps, and of course, hoverflies as well as bees.
Wasp Sting Treatment, First Aid And Prevention
Find out about wasp stings, how to prevent wasp stings and deter wasps.