January 2017 - Wasps

The start of a wasp colony in spring

Worker wasps in Autumn (photo with thanks to Lindsey Stephens).

Mature nest (thanks to Jean Blake)


I am always relieved in winter when wasps die. Many homes in Bawburgh, including ours, suffer these unwanted guests - in cavity walls, roof spaces, compost, or holes in the ground. However, wasps do have good points, and are useful in the environment. They eat flies, aphids, caterpillars and other invertebrates, and are important insect controllers. Wasps are carnivorous, bees are not. Both are pollinators. The sting of the wasp is used, not only in defence but to capture, and immobilise insect prey, and the sting is retracted back into the wasp ready for reuse. Bees use their stings in defence, and once used, bees die.

The annual cycle of the wasp begins in the spring when a single queen, which has hibernated over winter, begins to build a nest, made of chewed wood pulp mixed with saliva i.e. 'paper' which will eventually become an  amazing construction made up of hexagonal structures. She lays one egg in each 'cell'. The queen will divide her time between nest building and, once her eggs have hatched into larvae, looking after her offspring.  These offspring will develop into sterile females or workers, smaller than the queen, which will take over duties of increasing and then maintaining the nest, and feeding further hatching larvae. All the queen needs to do from now on is lay more eggs. In the late summer, early autumn, some of the eggs will develop into 'drones' or male wasps and others will be fertile females, ready to become new queens.  Towards the end of September the nests are at their maximum capacity with lots of adults (a large nest may house as many as 10,000 individuals) and few larvae. This is when wasps are at their most visible. The workers now feed largely on nectar, whilst still feeding the remaining larvae on high protein insects. In autumn, the drones and potential new queens will leave the nest, and will not return. The original queen stops laying, and the workers have no larvae to feed. The workers then start to eat fallen fruit. The alcohol levels in the rotten fruit can make the wasps drunk and more liable to sting. Meanwhile, the drones will die after mating with the new queens, and the new queens will find sheltered places to hibernate. The original queen and workers will all die when food becomes scarce.

Interesting Wasp Facts:

1. A spheksophobe is someone who experiences extreme panic at the sight or even thought of wasps.

2. Common wasps are nick-named 'jaspers' derived possibly from their Latin name Vespa or from the similarity in looks to the striped mineral jasper.



Back to Wild About Bawburgh Home Page