Do Wasps Have a Queen? Uncovering the Social Structure in Wasp Colonies

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Wasps are a diverse group of insects, with some species living a social lifestyle, which includes having a queen. Social wasps, such as yellowjackets, begin their colonies with a single queen in the spring. The queen is responsible for founding and developing the nest during the early part of the summer, with population numbers growing as the season continues 1.

Understanding the role of a queen in a wasp colony is essential in learning about the lifecycle and behavior of these social insects. For instance, paper wasps have a queen that establishes nests in May and focuses on reproduction until late summer, by which time there are few, if any, remaining wasps 2. The presence and activities of queen wasps can influence the size and longevity of a colony, making it an important aspect of wasp ecology.

Some examples of social wasps and their queen’s behavior include:

  • Yellowjacket queen starts the colony and helps it grow up to 5,000 wasps in late summer 1.
  • Paper wasp queen founds a nest in May and reproduction ceases by late summer 2.

The Wasps’ Social Structure

Queen Wasps

  • Responsibility: laying eggs
  • Characteristics: larger than other wasps, fertile female

In social wasps, the queen’s primary role is to lay eggs and establish a colony. A queen wasp is usually larger than other wasps in the colony and is the sole fertile female. In some species, there can be more than one queen per colony.

Example: A Yellowjacket queen is responsible for starting a new nest.

Worker Wasps

  • Responsibilities: nest building, food collection, larvae care
  • Characteristics: sterile females, smaller than queens

Worker wasps are sterile female wasps that assist with various tasks within the colony. They are responsible for nest building, collecting food, and taking care of the larvae. Worker wasps work together for the betterment of the colony.

Example: In a small colony of 200 yellowjackets, they may kill and eat about 5000 caterpillars during a season.

Wasp Type Size Role Example Species
Queen Large Egg-laying Yellowjackets
Worker Smaller Building, food, care Yellowjackets

Drones

  • Responsibilities: mating with the queen
  • Characteristics: male wasps, do not have stingers

Drones are male wasps, whose primary purpose is mating with the queen. They do not participate in other tasks in the colony and do not have stingers. After mating, drones usually die.

The social structure of wasps is similar to that of bees, with a hierarchy that consists of a queen, workers, and drones, working together for the benefit of their colony. However, unlike bees, most wasp species are carnivorous, preying on caterpillars and other insects to feed their larvae.

Pros of Wasp Social Structure

  • Efficient for survival
  • Division of labor
  • Helps maintain ecosystems and control pest populations

Cons of Wasp Social Structure

  • Aggression towards other insects or species
  • Can be harmful if population grows too large

In conclusion, understanding the social structure of wasps can help in appreciating their role in ecosystems as pollinators, predators, and parasitoids.

Types of Wasp Species

Paper Wasps

Paper wasps are slender, with a body length of 3/4 inches, and come in various colors like yellow, brown, red, and black. They build nests made of paper-like material, often found attached to building eaves1.

  • Single open-faced comb nests
  • Colony size: 20 to 75 wasps
  • Defensive stinging behavior

Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets are a common type of wasp, preying on insects like caterpillars, flies, and crickets2.

  • Predatory insects
  • Smooth and shiny body
  • Narrow waist

Hornets

Hornets are a subset of yellow jackets and share similar characteristics2.

  • Similar to yellow jackets
  • Distinct coloring and behavior

Solitary Wasps

In contrast to social wasps, solitary wasps don’t form colonies and live independently2.

  • No colony structure
  • Diverse range of species

Comparison Table:

Wasp Species Social or Solitary Nest Style Predatory Body Type
Paper Wasps Social Open-faced comb Yes Slender
Yellow Jackets Social Varies Yes Smooth, Shiny
Hornets Social Varies Yes Like yellow jackets
Solitary Wasps Solitary None Species-dependent Diverse

Behavior and Survival Strategies

Feeding Habits

Wasps are known to be predators, feeding on various insects and other small creatures. They help control populations of pests like:

  • Caterpillars
  • Flies
  • Ants

Some wasps prey on pollinators, such as bees, which can be detrimental to ecosystems. In addition, wasps feed on sugars from fruits, nectar, and other sources.

Nest Construction

Wasps construct their nests in various ways:

  • Exposed Nests: Usually found in trees or other elevated structures
  • Ground Nests: Built underground or in low-lying areas
  • Hidden Nests: Concealed within wall cavities or other obscured locations

Nests are made from plant fibers, mud, or other materials, and are vital for the survival and reproduction of wasps 1.

Stinging Mechanism

Wasps possess a stinger they use for defense and to paralyze prey. The venom injected during a sting can be painful and cause allergic reactions. However, not all wasps are dangerous, and some species are less aggressive 2. Queen wasps can also sting when their nests are threatened, and this sting can be more potent than those of worker wasps.

Reproductive Strategies

The reproductive cycle of wasps involves:

  1. Queens laying fertilized eggs in the nest
  2. Larvae hatching from eggs and being fed by adult wasps
  3. Larvae undergoing pupal stage
  4. Fully developed adults emerging from pupae

Queen wasps hibernate during winter and begin constructing new nests in spring. They lay eggs, which later hatch and grow into worker wasps that take over daily tasks in the colony 3.

Pros and Cons of Wasps

Pros Cons
Control pests Can be aggressive
Pollinate plants May sting humans
Diverse habitats Can harm ecosystems

Interactions with Ecosystem and Humans

Wasp’s Role in the Ecosystem

Wasps play an essential role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. They are valuable pollinators and help control pests like insects and spiders as predators. For example, paper wasps act as a natural pest control by preying on caterpillars.

  • Pollination: Like honey bees, wasps assist in pollination, transferring pollen from one flower to another.
  • Pest Control: By consuming pests, wasps prevent infestations that could negatively impact ecosystems.

Pest Control and Infestations

Although wasps can be beneficial for ecosystems, they can also become a nuisance for humans when populations grow and infestations occur. Yellowjacket populations peak during late summer, leading to increased interactions with humans and potential stings.

A comparison table of wasps and honey bees in pest control:

Entity Pros Cons
Wasps Effective natural pest control Potential for infestations and stings
Honey Bees Pollination, honey production Some species may sting if disturbed

Preventing and Treating Stings

If a wasp infestation is present around your home, calling a pest control professional is the most effective method of dealing with them. However, some preventative measures can reduce the likelihood of being stung:

  • Avoid wearing bright colors or strong scents that might attract wasps.
  • Keep food and drinks covered during outdoor events.
  • Carefully dispose of trash in sealed containers.

In case of a sting, consider the following treatment options:

  1. Remove the stinger if visible, using a flat, blunt object like a credit card.
  2. Clean the area with soap and water to prevent infection.
  3. Apply a cold pack to reduce swelling and pain.
  4. Seek professional medical advice if severe allergic reactions occur, such as difficulty breathing, rapid pulse, or excessive swelling.

Footnotes

  1. Paper Wasps, Yellowjackets and Other Stinging Wasps 2

  2. Wasps | Washington State Department of Health 2 3 4

  3. UMN Extension

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – possibly a dirt dauber?

 

Hello, I was wondering if you could tell me what this bug is. A description of it would be, black body, weird shaped, hind legs are yellowy brown, the waist is very very slender, then rounds back out at the rear end. Has a stinger looks like, transleucent brownish blackish wings. eyes that look like they are to big for its head. about 1/2 inch long, maybe just a tad longer. and relatively long antennae. Was also wondering if you could possibly give me more info on it, like its diet, habitat, and such, or possibly another site to go to for this info. It is for a bug project. Thank you so very much for any help. By the way, your site, as far as I have seen is the best for finding out types of insects. I greatly appreciate it, helps alot for things like school work.
Jennifer


Dear Jennifer,
Thank you for the compliment. Most of the photos we post have been taken by our readers, and we unfortunately have none of mud daubers. Though we are trained photographers ourselves, it seems like we don’t have much time to take photos of insects because of our busy teaching schedules and the time we spend updating our website and answering questions. Mud Daubers is a general classification as well as the common name for wasps from the family Specidae. It is a large family with over 100 species. The subfamily Specinae are the thread-wasted species. Two genuses Sceliphron and Chalybion are commonly called mud daubers. They construct their nests of mud and provision them with spiders, though different species are known to prefer different food inlcuding caterpillars, grasshoppers, flies, and others. There are several cells about an inch long and the nests are found on the sides and ceilings of buildings. The nests are usually filled with spiders or insects which have been paralyzed by a sting. When the young wasps hatch, they resemble grubs and they have a fresh supply of comatose spiders to eat. Neither of our common mud daubers fits your description. Sceliphron caementarium is blackish brown with yellow spots, yellow legs, and clear wings. Chalybion californicum is metallic blue with bluish wings. It sounds like neither is your insect.
Here is a nice site:
http://insects.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/sphecidwasps/index.html
which has a wasp that fits your description called Isodontia auripes. Here is a photo. Let us know how your project turns out.

Letter 2 – Spheksophobia: Fear of Wasps

 

Fear of wasps, hornets, etc.
First of all, I loved your site! Lot’s of good information to be found here & I’m sure I’ll be back. Now, is there a name for the fear of wasps & other stinging insects? Fear of spiders is arachnophobia, so what is my phobia called? Yes, I am phobic of stinging insects! I’ve actually injured myself numerous times trying to flee when they got too close (20 ft. or so to me). I have read everything I can find trying to reassure myself that they aren’t going to harm me if I leave them alone, but I cannot seem to rid myself of this horrible fear. It s really starting to ruin my life. I was city girl all my life until 4 years ago when I married & moved to the country. Now, I have so many species of stinging insects that I’ve developed this phobia. I call it that because it truly is an irrational fear I have, but I cannot shake it. You see, we had an large invasion of Cicada Killers in our yard last year. They seem to want to fly very near people – almost to the point of landing on you. Also, we have an usually large number of carpenter bees on our property. Again, from what I’ve read, they aren’t known for their aggressiveness, but they are quite social which scares me and I just want them away from my property. Then, we have big, red wasps that fly up under the siding on our house at all 4 corners and under the siding above all the vents in the cement block foundation of the house. We live in a flood zone, so our house sits on a 5 ft. high cement block foundation, so when you are in the yard, they are flying in and out of the nest just below eye level. I am so afraid of all of these stinging pests that I am hyper-aware of them, I can spot them 50 ft away from me flying around. So far this year alone, I’ve went through 12 cans of wasp & hornet spray trying to kill them at the nests under the siding to no avail. Not only is this costly, but it’s making me crazy. Maybe I should try hypnosis or something to get over my fear, because it’s obvious that they aren’t going anywhere, so I either deal with it somehow or move out. The funny thing is that I was never fearful like this when I lived in town – possibly because I had never seen them in such high numbers like this. I’d also never had them fly around so close to me like they do out there. I’d never even heard of a Cicada Killer until last year – but now I dread the summer in fear of those large, scary things. Help me!!!!! Or, at least give me a name for my phobia?? Lisa Crow
Mount Vernon, Indiana

Hi Lisa,
Sometimes we love doing research. Your fear of wasps was located on an amazing site devoted to phobias and is called Spheksophobia. A related phobia would be Cnidophobia, the Fear of Stings

Letter 3 – Tiny Wasp

 

More hymenoptera photos for your site if you like
Here are some photos you are welcome to use: Megarhyssa (Ichnuemonidae) [and] Townesella marjoriae Huggert and Masner (Diapriidae:Diapriinae) presumably associated with ants Regards,
Hans
Cleveland Museum of Natural History

Hi Hans,
We already have two pages devoted specifically to Ichneumons that are distinct from our four wasp pages. We couldn’t locate any information online about the timy Townsella Wasp, but we are happy to post the image.

Hi Daniel,
Glad you are able to use the photo. I work specifically on Diapriidae. (Hymenoptera:Apocrita:Parasitica:Proctotrupoidea:Diapriidae) r.e. Townesella. You can find it on Matt Yoder’s site here: http://www.diapriid.org /projects/1/public/clave/show /342 There is not a whole lot known about it .It is probably associated with ants. Has been caught in light traps. Not something the casual collector would probably come across. Range is described to be NW USA, but also includes Mexico. Regards,
Hans

Letter 4 – Plea for connection to Bugs Anonymous

 

Btw… Do you know the number of Bugs Anonymous?…. I think I have a problem.  I dreamt about this wasp last night. lol.  I was dreaming I was back at the spot where I photographed it, trying to get a better picture of it’s abdomen!
True! : ))
Until next time… happy bug watching!
Best regards,
J

Possibly Mason Wasp
Possibly Mason Wasp

Dear J (name withheld to maintain anonymity),
We are creating a special Featured Posting of your plea to connect Bugaholics from around the world.  Let this posting become the beginning of the forum.
  A better view of this Mason or Potter Wasp’s (location withheld to help maintain anonymity) would surely help contribute to a correct identification.

 

Authors

  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

    View all posts
  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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Tags: Wasps

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