Have you ever wondered about the lifecycle of wasps? How long do wasps live on average? Where do they go during the winter? We will answer these questions below.
The life cycle of a wasp generally differs from species to species. There are two major categories of wasps – social and solitary.
Social wasps are those that live in colonies, such as paper wasps and yellow jackets.
In this colony, the worker wasps don’t live for more than a few weeks, while the queen can live longer.
Solitary wasps, such as digger wasps and thread-waisted wasps, build nests in groups, but each wasp has its own nest. They live for only one season.
In the following article, we will talk more about the lifespan of solitary and social wasps and their life cycle.
How Long Do Solitary Wasps Live?
Solitary wasps like the thread-waisted and digger wasps are usually spotted from June to August.
They can sometimes be confused with other bees or yellowjackets, social wasps. But there are major differences between these species.
Solitary wasps build their nests in the ground and have only one generation a year.
Solitary wasps that nest in the ground sometimes build their nests in a group close to each other.
But don’t be mistaken; these are individual nests with one female in each nest.
The female wasps build and provision their own nest. They will lay eggs and prey on various insects, paralyzing them.
They will then bring the paralyzed prey back to the nest and leave it for the larvae to feed on.
The adult females then die by the end of their breeding season, i.e., by the end of summer. The larvae will continue to pupate and emerge as adults next summer.
Solitary Wasp Life Cycle
As discussed in the above section, solitary wasps have only one generation per year, and the female dies at the end of the breeding season.
During the breeding season, the solitary female wasp digs a burrow in loose soil.
Once the burrow is ready, she will deposit her eggs in a cell and supplement it with prey for the larvae.
Female wasps attack other insects like spiders and caterpillars and paralyze the prey. They then drag it into the burrow as food for the larvae.
Some solitary species, like the spider wasps, capture spiders and lay one egg on each stored spider. The larva then feeds on it.
Some other species, like cuckoo wasps, leave their eggs in the nests of other wasps and bees.
The larvae of these wasps either feed on the resident larvae or starve them by feeding on their food source.
In the case of solitary wasps, the mother and larvae never meet because the female dies shortly after the breeding season.
After feeding, the larvae spin a silk cocoon to pupate within the nest. The larvae will then overwinter as pupae, eventually emerging as adults the following spring.
Female solitary wasps then mate with the males in the spring and lay eggs come summer to birth the next generation.
How Long Do Social Wasps Live?
Social wasps are wasps that live in colonies like ants and bees. Wasps like paper wasps and yellowjackets are social wasps.
Within the colony, the lifespan of the wasp depends on whether it’s a queen, worker, or drone.
A large number of wasps in a wasp colony are worker wasps. As their name suggests, worker wasps are the members who spend their lives working for the colony.
Worker wasps are the unmated females within the colony and do not lay eggs. They carry out various tasks like building the nest, maintaining it, gathering food, and protecting the larvae.
Because they spend most of their time away from the nest and working, their bodies are susceptible to faster breakdown. And for this reason, worker wasps rarely survive beyond a couple of weeks.
In fact, on average, an adult worker wasp lives anywhere from 12-22 days.
Drones are the male wasps that hatch out of the eggs the queen lays at the end of the season. The sole purpose of the drones is to mate with future queens and fertilize the eggs.
They do not have long life spans either, usually dying shortly after mating. Their lifespan can be slightly longer than the worker wasps but far shorter than the queen wasps.
Drones usually live a very sheltered and sedentary life within the nest.
Sometimes, if there are too many drones in the nest or the food isn’t sufficient for the colony, the worker wasps will kill the drones.
Queen wasps are the reproductive females of the colony that mate with drones to lie eggs in the next season.
Queens produce a certain pheromone that prevents the development of reproductive organs in the other female worker wasps.
Queen wasps live up to a year. Once they mate with the drones during mating season, queen wasps hibernate during the winter.
They then emerge during spring and lay the first eggs that hatch into worker wasps.
The last batch of eggs gives birth to future queens and drones that mate and start a colony the following year.
So a queen wasp’s life spans from the fall when she mates and becomes fertilized until the next fall when she lays eggs for the next generation and then dies off with the old colony.
Social Wasp Life Cycle
Social wasps go through four life stages – egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Social wasps are social insects and therefore live in colonies.
The queen wasp lays all the eggs in the colonies. They start laying eggs in the spring and continue until summer.
The initially laid eggs hatch to become worker wasps – infertile females that help build the nest and protect the future offspring of the queen wasp.
Toward the end of summer, the queen lays eggs that will hatch into drones and future queens.
Wasp eggs may take around 5 days to 2 weeks to hatch. Once they hatch, the larvae emerge and stay within the nest as the queen and worker wasps take care of them.
They feed on insects captured by the worker wasps and consume a high-protein diet.
The larval stage continues for about 9 to 24 days, during which the larvae consume a lot of food and shed their skin a couple of times.
After shedding their skin for the last time, the larvae will pupate, sometimes within a silk cocoon.
The larvae will transform into adults in the pupal stage in about 8-22 days, depending on the species.
At the end of this, the adult wasp will emerge from the cocoon and begin feeding to gain strength.
After a few days as an adult, the fertile female wasps will mate with the drones and, once fertilized, will hibernate for the winter months.
They will emerge the following spring and start laying eggs to rebuild their old colony.
Meanwhile, the old queen will die with the drones and the old colony.
Can Wasps Die of Loneliness?
Yes, wasps can die of loneliness. There are two types of wasps – social and solitary, and both can die of loneliness.
As their name suggests, social wasps live in colonies and are heavily dependent on them for food, shelter, and mating.
They have a hard time surviving alone and can quickly die without their colony.
Often, wasp nests are disturbed when they are discovered.
When nests of social wasps are disturbed, they lose their sense of structure and organization, making them vulnerable to external predators.
Solitary wasps, on the other hand, may survive alone since they, anyway, do not operate in colonies, but they can still die of loneliness.
Since, for many wasps, their main purpose is to mate, without reproductive opportunities, they might die sooner than their life spans.
How Long Do Wasps Live Indoors?
If wasps are stuck indoors without access to their nests, nectar, and other things needed for survival, they will not live up to their full life span.
Wasp nests also regulate temperature for warmth or cold. Being stuck in any environment besides their nest could be physically detrimental to the wasp.
However, the situation is different when a wasp nest is found indoors. Wasps can easily survive if they build a nest indoors.
Their survival is dictated largely by access to a nest and not the outdoors per se.
A wasp indoors may die without a nest within a few days or weeks. However, this might differ from species to species.
For instance, the yellow jacket, a social wasp, can survive without food for a few weeks. Therefore, if a yellow jacket is stuck indoors, it might be able to live longer than any other species of wasp.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are wasps scared of?
A combination of clove, geranium, and lemongrass essential oils can effectively repel wasps. Mix the oils with soapy water and spray areas where wasps may build nests.
Peppermint oil can also be used as a wasp repellent and can be added to hanging baskets and planters. Different scents can be used to keep wasps away.
What kills wasps instantly?
If you suspect a wasp infestation, identify the nest and wasp species before treating it.
Wear protective gear before using any treatment method, such as nest drenching, nest dusting, perimeter spraying, baiting, homemade sprays, or traps.
Baiting and traps can be used to reduce wasp infestations. If you suspect a paper wasp infestation, contact licensed pest control personnel instead of removing the nest on your own.
Do wasps die or hibernate?
Queen wasps hibernate over winter and build nests in the spring in the ground, trees, walls, or buildings. The drones and workers are not so lucky.
The nest is made of wood pulp and has internal chambers where the queen lays eggs that hatch into larvae.
The larvae pupate and become workers who help rear new larvae and queens.
In the fall, male wasps mate with new queens, and all wasps except the new queens die. O
ld nests are not reused, but new ones may be established nearby. Wasp nest treatment is not possible between November and March.
What is the life cycle of a wasp?
Social wasps have a life cycle that includes four stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
The queen wasp lays all the eggs in the colony, which hatch into worker wasps that protect and care for the future offspring.
Toward the end of summer, the queen lays eggs that will hatch into drones and future queens.
The larvae feed on insects and shed their skin before pupating, which lasts 8-22 days.
Once the adult wasp emerges, it feeds to gain strength, and the fertile female wasps mate with drones before hibernating for the winter.
In the spring, they start laying eggs to rebuild the colony while the old queen and drones die.
Solitary wasps, on the other hand, have only one generation per year, and the female dies at the end of the breeding season.
The female wasp digs a burrow in loose soil and deposits her eggs in a cell, along with prey for the larvae.
Some species lay one egg on each stored spider, while others leave their eggs in the nests of other wasps and bees.
The larvae feed on the prey or resident larvae, spin a silk cocoon to pupate, and overwinter as pupae before emerging as adults in the spring.
Female solitary wasps mate with males in the spring and lay eggs in the summer for the next generation.
The lifespan of wasps depends on what types of wasps they are – social or solitary. Solitary wasps do not live in colonies and build individual nests.
They usually survive only for one season; every year, there is a new generation of solitary wasps.
Social wasps, on the other hand, operate in colonies. Within the colony, there’s a queen wasp, worker wasps, and drones, i.e., male wasps.
The worker wasps live for about 12-22 days, while the drones die shortly after mating with the future queen wasps.
The queen wasps survive for about a year until they lay eggs and birth the next generation of wasps.
Once new queens are fertilized and go into hibernation, the old queens die with their colony.
Thank you for reading, I hope you got all the details you were looking for!
Over the years, several of our readers have inquired about the lifecycle of wasps, and we were inspired to write this article because of these letters.
Here is a selection of these emails for you to go through as well.
Letter 1 – Emerald Cockroach Wasp: Turns Cockroaches into Zombies!!!
Christmas bug? Location: Honolulu, HI November 7, 2011 4:05 am Found a bug at a school in Honolulu, HI. It is about an inch long. Its body is a metallic green, and its legs are red and green. Signature: Help please Alas, your request arrived too late to take advantage of Halloween. Normally, we do not like to link to Wikipedia, however, when we typed in “green wasp, red legs, Hawaii” into a search engine, we discovered the Emerald Cockroach Wasp, Ampulex compressa, on Wikipedia. We have heard about this parasitoid before, though this is the first submission to our website. This is the wasp that turns Cockroaches into Zombies, the new hip monsters in pop culture films. We then did additional research to verify this identification and we found an excellent description on Science Blogs: The Loom. Here is an excerpt from Carl Zimmer’s account: “But things get weird when it’s time for a female to lay an egg. She finds a cockroach to make her egg’s host, and proceeds to deliver two precise stings. The first she delivers to the roach’s mid-section, causing its front legs buckle. The brief paralysis caused by the first sting gives the wasp the luxury of time to deliver a more precise sting to the head. The wasp slips her stinger through the roach’s exoskeleton and directly into its brain. She apparently use ssensors along the sides of the stinger to guide it through the brain, a bit like a surgeon snaking his way to an appendix with a laparoscope. She continues to probe the roach’s brain until she reaches one particular spot that appears to control the escape reflex. She injects a second venom that influences these neurons in such a way that the escape reflex disappears. From the outside, the effect is surreal. The wasp does not paralyze the cockroach. In fact, the roach is able to lift up its front legs again and walk. But now it cannot move of its own accord. The wasp takes hold of one of the roach’s antennae and leads it–in the words of Israeli scientists who study Ampulex–like a dog on a leash. The zombie roach crawls where its master leads, which turns out to be the wasp’s burrow. The roach creeps obediently into the burrow and sits there quietly, while the wasp plugs up the burrow with pebbles. Now the wasp turns to the roach once more and lays an egg on its underside. The roach does not resist. The egg hatches, and the larva chews a hole in the side of the roach. In it goes. The larva grows inside the roach, devouring the organs of its host, for about eight days. It is then ready to weave itself a cocoon–which it makes within the roach as well. After four more weeks, the wasp grows to an adult. It breaks out of its cocoon, and out of the roach as well.” According to Wikipedia: “The wasp is mostly found in the tropical regions of South Asia, Africa and the Pacific islands. … A. compressa was introduced to Hawaii by F.X. Williams in 1941 as a method of biocontrol. ” BugGuide has examples of Cockroach Wasps from the family Ampulicidae and the genus Ampulex, however this species is not represented. More about the Emerald Cockroach Wasp can be found on Scientific American: Revenge of the Zombifying Wasp. Comment from Cesar Crash in Brazil About Ampulex Compressa November 17, 2011 Hi, guys! Y’know, about Enio Brutamonte’s picks of the Emerald Cockroach Wasp, I told him at the beggining to send you the photos, but he just gave the link. I sent him another e-mail begging him to send the photo, ’till now, he didn’t e-mail me back. Every crickets I see in your site and bug guide are very different from the majority we have here. I’ll send some pics later when I come home. I have a strange grasshopper I’d like to identify too. I’m sharing some images of some art I’m doing as a hobby. It’s masking tape, newspaper, wire, indian ink, acrilic paint and stuff. Peace!
Letter 2 – Emerald Cockroach Wasp
Singapore Green Shiny Insect Location: Singapore November 25, 2011 12:47 am Hi, I am pretty sure this is a common insect, but no one knows what this is. I will appreciate if you could tell me what this is. Thanks! Signature: Huaguang Dear Huaguang, Despite the lack of clarity in your photo, we are certain you have submitted an image of an Emerald Cockroach Wasp, Ampulex compressa, which we recently featured because of its amazing life cycle. A female stings an American Cockroach, turning it into a zombie that can be led back to the nest where it becomes a meal for the developing wasp larvae. There is much online information available on this food chain relationship. Hi, Thanks for the information. It’s such an amazing insect, especially in a country where cockroaches are absolute pests. Unfortunately I hardly see them at all! Regards HG
Letter 3 – Emerald Cockroach Wasp from Brazil
Ampulex compressa Location: Pirituba, São Paulo city, Brazil March 31, 2012 8:08 pm Hello! I am resending this image because the summer is over here in Brazil, and this is the best shot I could take. This picture was taken just about time because this week, unfortunately, this tree was cut down. Signature: Cesar Crash Hi Cesar, Thanks for following up on the November posting of an Emerald Cockroach Wasp.
Letter 4 – Emerald Cockroach Wasp from Brazil
Emerald Cockroach Wasp Location: Pirituba, São Paulo City, Brazil May 14, 2012 7:56 am Hi! I’m sending another picture of the Brazilian Emerald Cockroach Wasp, because the first picture I sent was blurry. It’s just if you wish to update the post. Signature: Cesar Crash Hi Cesar, How nice to hear back from you. Rather than to update your previous posting, we have just created a new post.
Letter 5 – Emerald Cockroach Wasp from Hawaii
Subject: What’s this Bug? Location: Central Oahu, Hi March 3, 2013 12:57 pm It’s about 2 inches long and the colors are bright neon blue, bright neon green, with orange on the legs. Oh and it has wings. Signature: curious Dear curious, This is a curious parasitic wasp known as the Emerald Cockroach Wasp, Ampulex compressa, and you can read about its interesting life history in our archives. In a compressed version, the female Emerald Cockroach Wasp preys upon Cockroaches to feed her brood by stinging the Cockroaches and turning them into zombies. You may read more about the Emerald Cockroach Wasp on TrekNature where it states: “The wasp is common in the tropical regions of South Asia, Africa and the Pacific islands. The flying wasps are more abundant in the warm seasons of the year. A. compressa was introduced to Hawaii by F. X. Williams in 1941 as a method of biocontrol. This has been unsuccessful because of the territorial tendencies of the wasp, and the small scale on which they hunt.”
Letter 6 – Orchid Dupe Wasp from Australia
Subject: Identifying Insect Location: Cheltenham VIC October 23, 2013 4:17 am Hi, I found two of these beautiful insects in my backyard the other day. I googled them and it looks like the Orchid Dupe Wasp. I have a curious 2 year old and I’m concerned about the enormous stinger they have. Are they particularly dangerous and could there be a nest around? Thanks in advance 🙂 Signature: Alex Dear Alex, Congratulations on identifying your Orchid Dupe Wasp, Lissopimpla excelsa, a species of parasitic Ichneumon from Australia. What you have identified as a stinger is the ovipositor of the female, and wasps that sting are using a modified ovipositor. Some Ichneumons are capable of stinging. We will try to locate some more specific information for you. Great. Thank you so much for the quick response. I look forward to hearing more info if you come across any. Cheers Alex
Letter 7 – Square Headed Wasps mysteriosly emerging in shower
Subject: Shower Wasp? Location: Dallas, Texas December 28, 2013 12:46 pm It’s December in Texas, and this flying bug (and lots of its relatives) has recently shown up in our shower. We see about 2-4 a day. The shower has an exterior wall, but we can’t find any holes around the tile or windows. It doesn’t seem to be aggressive, but it does look like a stinger-type body. Ideas? Signature: LN Ed. Note: We did not recognize this wasp and we thought the situation was odd, so we contacted Eric Eaton with the following. Hi Eric, Happy New Year. This Wasp is from Dallas Texas. The person keeps finding them in an indoor shower with an outside wall. They find two to four a day. This does not look like a social wasp to me. Can you identify at least family and possibly species? Thanks Daniel Hi, Daniel: Happy New Year to you, too. This wasp is not a social wasp, but a solitary one in the family Crabronidae, tribe Larrini. It *might* be Tachytes or Larropsis for genus, but they are difficult to determine to genus without having the specimen in hand. Don’t know why they are emerging indoors at this time of year, but they are *not* harmful. Eric Dear LN, We sought some assistance from Eric Eaton with your request and his response is included. According to BugGuide, the Square Headed Wasps in the subfamily Crabroninae: “nest in hollow stems or in abandoned galleries in wood, others burrow in the ground. Prey is mostly flies, but some utilize other insects.” If you have sash windows, they might have emerged from a nest in the windowframe due to the warmth indoors.
Letter 8 – Emerald Cockroach Wasp from Hawaii turns Roaches into Zombies!!!
Subject: Iridescent Green Insect – Maui Location: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kealia_Pond_National_Wildlife_Refuge June 27, 2016 10:53 am Very active green insect in small groups on wood structures along the Kealia Pond boardwalk near Ma’alea, Maui, HI. Looks sort of like a cuckoo wasp but has enough differences to suggest some other species. Approximately 1″ (2.54cm) long. Active in daytime. 20.7963635,-156.4882661 Signature: T Dear T, This is an Emerald Cockroach Wasp, Ampulex compressa. They are fascinating insects that are able to sting a Cockroach and turn it into a Zombie that can be led back to a nesting site where the female lays an egg on the paralyzed Cockroach which provides living food for her young. Read our well researched posting to which we have linked for more information on this incredible parasitoid.
Letter 9 – Weevil Wasp
Subject: Wasp ID and damage? Location: North East NJ September 4, 2016 9:49 pm Hi Bugman, love the site, always informative and always entertaining. I cam across this wasp today. At first I thought perhaps it was a sand wasp and the protrusion on its face would help it dig, but the more I did research, the more I think it was some type of damage it received, (Not from me!) Any idea of ID and if this was inflicted damage or a weird clypeus perhaps? Signature: Thank you!! Do you have any other images of this individual? Perhaps a shot of the entire insect and a dorsal view? Hi and thanks for the response! I have two other shots, all from the side. I could not get a front shot due to the leaf and I did not want to disturb the wasp. Not knowing what type it was, I didn’t know it’s aggressiveness or habits. I will say the wasp was alive and did move slightly but not much at all for as close as I was. Perhaps dying? I could not find any other damage, or distinguishing features. I hope I attached the photos correctly. Thank you again! Thanks for sending additional images. We wanted to get an idea of the entire body structure of this unusual Hymenopteran. Though we have searched for some time, including using the word “cowcatcher” to describe what appears to be an unusually structured clypeus, which we needed to look up on BugGuide, we have not had any luck locating anything similar looking. We do not believe any damage or injury is evident. The symmetry is too perfect. We have written to Eric Eaton for assistance. We are posting your submission and tagging it as unidentified and we hope to get back to you soon with an identification. You rock! And I didn’t get intellectual enough to try ”Cowcatcher”. I did however try bee horn or wasp snout. ? Thank you for all your help. I love a mystery and your help is very appreciated. I also wondered if there was some kind of parasite that crawled out of there. Eric Eaton Responds Daniel: It is a species of Cerceris. The females hunt weevils or jewel beetles as food for their larval offspring. Eric Ed Note: Though Eric Eaton has provided us with the genus name Cerceris for the Weevil Wasps, we have not been able to verify a species identity based on the images posted to BugGuide which notes: “The faces of females are modified with unusual projections on the clypeus and clypeal margin.” BugGuide also indicates: “Most Cerceris species prey on adult beetles, but some also prey on bees and wasps. At least one species, C. halone, preys exclusively on acorn weevils (Curculio nasicus).” According to InsectIdentification.org: “”Members of the genus Cerceris are hunters and gatherers of weevils and other beetles. Females dig nests in the ground along roads or in areas with loose sand or soil like basevall fields, parks and beaches. They compact the material and create cells where they lay a fertilized egg. They fly off, in search of future food for their larvae. Female Weevil Wasps bite their prey and paralyze them. The weevil or beetle is then brought back to the nest and stuffed inside a cell where they will remain paralyzed. A hatching wasp larva will immediately begin feeding on the living, paralyzed weevil or beetle. Once the wasp has grown, it will pupate into its adult form and leave the nest. This BugGuide image looks close, but it is not identified to the species level. After finding this BugGuide image, we are going to speculate this is Cerceris clypeata.
Letter 10 – Parasitoid Wasp might be Ensign Wasp
Subject: A bug with a red round thing Geographic location of the bug: Nazareth, Israel Date: 11/15/2017 Time: 10:18 AM EDT Sorry for the not so great picture, I took it around the house with my phone and the bug was too quick and tiny. I would love to know what’s the name of this insect (if it’s clear enough!) and was wondering what is that red round thing attached to it? I don’t know much about insects so I tried googling a variety of words to do with this that could lead me to similar pictures and maybe more info but no luck. Thanks in advance for your help! How you want your letter signed: Shico Dear Shico, There are enough physical similarities for us to comfortably state that this reminds us of a parasitoid Ensign Wasp in the family Evaniidae, like the one pictured on BugGuide. Ensign Wasps prey upon the eggs of Cockroaches. We have never seen images of an Ensign Wasp with a red abdomen, and the antennae and hind legs also look different than those of a typical Ensign Wasp. This might be some other closely related parasitoid Wasp. Hi Daniel, Thank you very much for the information. Sounds like a useful bug to keep around the house! I’m just surprised I never seen it before, or just probably missed it since it’s tiny. Thank you again for your help, glad I found the “Whatsthatbug” website. Have a great day, Charbel (Aka Shico)
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 – Orchid Dupe Wasp from Australia
Another Australian Flying Bug February 11, 2010 Another Australian Flying Bug Your letter to the bugman Hello again, Bugman I’ve been trying to identify this one, but I’m not sure if it’s a fly or something else. Ridou Ridou Sydney, Australia Hi again Ridou, This is not a fly, but rather, a Hymenopteran, a member of the order that consists of Ants, Bees and Wasps. We believe this is Brachonid, a parasitic wasp that can be identified in part through the long and slender antennae. Braconids are quite similar to Ichneumons, another possibility. We have not had any luck finding a matching photo, and we will continue to search. There are some beautiful Braconids posted on the Brisbane Insect website, but none that match your specimen. Thanks Daniel, I think you’re right. Apparently there’re about 800 species of Braconid (or Brachonid) in Australia! I found this site (this is the google cached version of it, since the actual page didn’t load) with a drawing of a similar species to mine: 126.96.36.199/search?q=cache:UmIoSwzWsWEJ:www.faunanet.gov.au/wos/factfile.cfm%3FFact_ID%3D232+Brachonid&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=au Hi Ridou, We couldn’t get your link to work, but we did find images of both Braconids and Ichneumons on the Life Unseen Website. We now believe your wasp is an Orange Dupe Wasp, Lissopimpla excelsa, one of the Ichneumons. One photo in particular looks identical to your specimen. The Oz Insects website calls this species the Orchid Dupe, and indicates: “The Orchid Dupe Wasp is a medium sized wasp with mainly orange body and dark wings. The abdomen has broad black band with four white spots on each side. The long thin antennae curl upwards at the ends. Females have a stout black ovipositor that is about half the body length. It is called the Orchid Dupe because some species of orchids mimic the odour and appearance of female Lissopimpla wasps. The male Lissopimpla wasps mistake the flowers for females pollinating the orchid.“