How many wasps live — discover the secrets of insects


What are they?

The wasps that are known as «yellow jackets» and «hornets» are medium-sized pests, measuring 10 to 25 mm (.39 to 1 inch). They are easily recognized by the bands of black and yellow or white on their stomachs. But many other types of harmless wasps look similar and can be mistaken for pests.

A hollow stinger is found at the rear of the wasp’s body that injects venom when it penetrates skin. These stings can be quite painful.

Social wasp species (which live in groups) are the most common and also the most dangerous because of their behaviour. Among them, German yellow jackets are considered the most aggressive. Many of these wasp species have a habit of scavenging in garbage cans.

Social wasps make paper nests in different shapes and sizes, some of them quite visible and others hidden. The paper nest can be fully enclosed with an opening near the base, or have an open structure, depending on wasp species.

Should I be concerned?

Social wasps are common in urban and rural areas throughout North America, and are the most common stinging menace in many Canadian cities.

Outdoor gatherings are often visited by wasps because of their attraction to sweet foods, but also to protein food earlier in the season. Stings can happen when people or animals bother wasps that are hunting for food or when they approach a nest by accident, triggering a defensive reaction from wasps guarding the nest. But wasps may sometimes attack people or animals even when seemingly unprovoked.

Several thousand people are stung by these venomous insects each year. In some rare cases, severe allergic reactions to the venom have caused death. Get medical attention right away if your reaction to a sting includes unusual swelling, itching, dizziness, or shortness of breath.

Unlike bees, wasps can sting more than once. Wasps can also damage ripe fruit by creating holes when they eat the flesh.

Wasps can be beneficial in many ways. Workers catch insects, like flies and caterpillars, and carry them back to the nest to feed the developing larvae. They also act as pollinators when they visit flowers for nectar. And they are a source of food for small mammals, birds, and spiders.

Did you know?

What to do if you are stung by a wasp

If a wasp lands on you, remain calm and wait for it to fly off, or brush it off gently. Otherwise, you run the risk of getting a sting because the wasp will feel threatened by any sudden movement.

Stings can be soothed with ice packs or with a baking soda paste. A wasp’s venom is very potent. Some people have allergic reactions and need medical attention. If the effects of a sting are severe, you should see a doctor right away. Effective anti-venom shots can reduce the number of severe reactions in vulnerable people.

How can I get rid of wasps?

Given their beneficial role in nature, try to tolerate small populations of wasps. Use preventive practices to stop them from becoming intolerable. Learn to tell the difference between harmful social wasps and the solitary ones that are mostly harmless and beneficial.


Before wasps become a problem, inspect your yard and home surroundings in early summer, looking for any wasp activity or paper nests taking shape. It is easier to discourage a single queen wasp from establishing too close to your home than handle a full-sized nest later in the season.

Physical control

  • Since wasps hunt for high-protein food like insects for their larvae, make sure you don’t leave moist pet food or picnic leftovers in the open.
  • Because they are also attracted to sweet food and strong scents, avoid leaving food or drink uncovered when eating outside.
  • Don’t wear scented products like perfume and hair spray.
  • Keep all garbage covered in tightly closed containers until it can be thrown out.
  • Avoid walking barefoot on lawns or other grassy areas, especially in late summer when wasps are more abundant and active.


You can find different commercial traps at garden centers and department stores. Food bait can be used with these traps to increase their effectiveness. Try to use protein foods (like dog food) instead of sweet foods so that bees are not trapped.

Be aware that there may be more wasp activity around baited traps, so they should not be placed close to play areas or other places of human activity. These traps can be useful in the short term during outdoor events where wasps can be drawn away from food-serving areas.

Nest removal

If the location of the nest does not present a health hazard, it’s best to leave the nest until November or December. Once it has been abandoned, you can remove the nest and dispose of it with little risk.

If the nest must be removed when the wasps are active, it should be done in the evening when wasps are least active. Nest removal can be dangerous and extreme caution must be used because of the risk of attack by a large group of wasps. Although a homeowner (with enough protection) can remove a nest, professional help is recommended.

Depending on the location and structure of the nest, removal can be as simple as enclosing the nest in a plastic bag and detaching the single anchoring stalk from the supporting tree branch or structure. To dispose of the active nest, place in a freezer for at least 48 hours. Remember to always wear protective clothing, including a head net.



If you use a pesticide to control your pest problem, read the label to make sure you are choosing the right product for the right pest. Follow all label directions and warnings carefully. Always look for a Pest Control Products (PCP) number on the label so you know the product has been approved by Health Canada. See Use pesticides safely for more information on using pesticides safely.

Treating the nest with an insecticide is an effective way to control wasps. Spraying after nightfall is recommended because wasps are less active at night. Do not use a light directly on the nest because this will alarm the wasps and increase their activity. Use a red filter over your flashlight to provide visibility without increasing wasp activity. Always wear appropriate protective clothing when using pesticides.

See also:  Which Insect Makes the Biggest Swarm?

Is 2018 a bumper year for wasps?

It’s been a long, hot summer and now that August is drawing to a close, wasps are out in full force.

Pest controllers are reporting a surge in calls about wasp nests — but are we really seeing a bumper summer for the insects?

In reality, we just don’t know. A lack of data on UK population numbers means that experts can’t be sure of just how many wasps are out there, and in which years they have been thriving.

We do know that wasp numbers change depending on weather conditions in the spring and summer. A warm and dry spring will allow queens to make their nests and rear their workers more successfully. Mild weather also makes for more abundant food sources.

There are more than 7,000 species of wasp living in the UK, but only nine are the social wasps that upset barbecues and picnics. The common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) and the German wasp (Vespula germanica) are the two you’re most likely to see, as they live all over the UK in a huge range of habitats.

Gavin Broad, a wasp curator at the Museum, says, ‘If the spring weather is good, when the queens are establishing nests and it is followed by a warm summer, you’ll probably get lots of wasps.’

Conditions this year have been favourable for wasp species, but experts say their numbers are likely to be within a normal range.

Chris Raper, Manager of the UK Species Inventory at the Museum, says, ‘The warm, dry summer might have encouraged some social species to do quite well, but this is all part of the usual yearly cycle.

‘Wasp nests reach maturity at about this time in the year, and the colonies eventually break up and bother gardeners and people with barbecues, so it is normal for everyone to suddenly notice them.’

The number of overwintering females may also affect the following year’s population. Too many queens competing for nest sites could lead to the survivors being in poorer condition and producing fewer offspring.

A common wasp specimen from the Museum collections.В It is a eusocial species: colonies work together to build communal nests.

Counting UK wasps

There are no systematic counts or surveys tracking wasp populations, so experts don’t really know what an average wasp year looks like.

Some studies have suggested that wasp populations go in cycles — perhaps cycling over two years with alternative summers producing more of the insects. But some researchers have disputed this and more work needs to be done to be sure of what factors impact abundance, diversity and distribution.

Initiatives including The Big Wasp Survey are hoping to add to the data on UK wasps. Now in its second year, the survey is a partnership between the University of Gloucestershire, University College London and the Royal Entomological Society. It aims to both find out more about which species live where in the UK and discover which factors are affecting wasp populations.


A Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) is any insect of the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita that is not a bee or an ant. Less familiar, the suborder Symphyta includes the sawflies and wood wasps, which differ from the Apocrita by having a broad connection between the thorax and abdomen. There are several species of wasp and some of these measure up to 30 millimetres in length. There are two types of wasps:

Social Wasps such as Common Wasps, Paper Wasps, Yellowjackets and Hornets.

Solitary Wasps such as Potter Wasps, Cicada Killer Wasps and Mud Dauber Wasps.

Wasp Characteristics

The eyes of a wasp are kidney shaped. Wasps have two pairs of wings, the hind wings smaller than the forewings. Their wings are folded longitudinally at rest and the mouth parts are adapted for chewing and licking. Wasps can easily be distinguished from bees because of their pointed body and waist.

Wasps are critically important in natural biocontrol. Almost every pest insect species has a wasp species that is predator or parasite upon it. Parasitic wasps are also increasingly used in agricultural pest control. Wasps make a distinct buzzing noise.

Wasp Nests

Wasps are common throughout Britain. Wasps are social insects forming colonies inside nests specially constructed in soil, barks, roof spaces and in cavities in trees and walls. Wasps are frequently found in domestic housing. Wasps are social insects with a Queen, who is much larger than the workers and starts a new nest each year. Nests are constructed of wasp paper made by chewing wood and other plant debris mixed with saliva.

Unlike honeybees, wasps have no wax producing gland. They manufacture a paper-like material from wood pulp. Wood fibres are gathered from weathered wood, softened by chewing and mixing with saliva. The paper is then used to make combs with cells for brood rearing.

The fertilised queen wasp emerges from hibernation around mid-April and searches for a suitable site for a nest. The Queen rears the first brood of worker wasps by herself and upon hatching these workers will carry on the building of the nest. The Queen, the only wasp able to lay eggs, will remain in the nest laying more eggs for further broods. The more workers there are, the quicker the nest will grow. By late summer the normal wasp nests will contain from 3,000 to 5,000 individuals and be up to 30 centimetres across. With cooler weather, the workers and mates may become tired and aggressive towards anyone interfering with them. The cold winter weather kills off all the workers and males – only the queen survives.

What to do if you discover a wasps nest!

Although wasps are troublesome to us it would be unwise to destroy nests without good reason. Wasps are controllers of far more injurious pests of forestry, agriculture and gardens. If the presence of a wasp nest is causing no direct problems, then it is best left well alone. Wasp nests are abandoned at the end of the autumn. Should it be necessary to carry out a treatment the nest can be treated by either:-

a) Dusting an insecticide powder around the entrance of the nest, preferably using injection tubes, which contaminates the workers as they return thereby carrying the dust inside; or

b) Surface spraying an insecticide directly onto the nest. Do not use domestic aerosols. Destruction of a wasps nest should NOT be undertaken by untrained persons. If wasps are causing a problem it is advisable to contact the Environmental Health Department.

What’s really the point of wasps?

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A new citizen science survey aims to shed light on that fixture of summertime in the outdoors: the wasp. Though much maligned, these fascinating creatures perform a vital ecological role, say scientists.

The only thing more certain to spoil an August Bank Holiday weekend BBQ than a sudden cloudburst? The arrival of wasps.

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At this time of the year, it can sometimes seem as if every outdoor activity is plagued by these yellow-and-black striped insects buzzing around your head and landing on your food and drink.

Wasps aren’t just annoying — if you are unlucky, you might end up with a sharp reminder that wasps, like their close relatives the honeybee, pack a powerful sting. That combination of nuisance and pain makes wasps many people’s least favourite animals.

Perhaps more than any other insect, wasps are badly in need of a change in public opinion. As well as having fascinating lives, they are extremely important in the environment and face problems similar to those of their cherished, but often no less annoying, cousins the bees.

As the summer approaches its end, many will wish for it, but a world without wasps would most certainly not be a better place.

Social types

The insects we most commonly identify as «wasps» are the social wasps. Social wasps (called yellow-jackets in some places) live in colonies consisting of hundreds or thousands of more-or-less sterile female workers and their much larger mother, the egg-laying queen.

The handful of colony-living, nest-building species is just a tiny fraction of overall wasp diversity, estimated at more than 9,000 species in the UK alone. Most wasps are solitary, some are tiny (a few species practically microscopic), none ever bother us and virtually all are overlooked.

Social wasp nests are constructed from wood fibres collected and then mixed with water by industrious wasp workers to make a kind of papier maché capable of producing very strong and long-lasting structures. The nests start to develop in late spring, when queen wasps emerge from hibernation.

Building a small nest of just a few paper cells, the queen must rear the first set of workers alone before the first batch of worker wasps can start to take over the work required by the developing colony.

Wasp workers toil ceaselessly to raise their sister workers from eggs the queen lays, cooperating and communicating in intricate ways to build and defend the nest, collect food and look after the queen. When the colony is large enough the workers start to give some young larvae more food at a much greater rate than usual, triggering genetic switches that cause the development of a potential queen rather than a worker.

Male wasps, who take no part in the social life of the colony, develop from unfertilised eggs in a form of sex determination called haplodiploidy, also found in bees and ants. These male-destined eggs are laid by the queen and rarely by workers, some of whom retain the ability to lay eggs but lack the ability to mate.

Potential queens (called gynes before they head a colony) and males, sisters and brothers of the workers, are the reproductive future of the colony. Mating with males from other colonies, the gynes overwinter before starting a colony of their own the following spring.

They may not make honey, but nonetheless wasps have just as fascinating social lives as the celebrated honeybee.

Vital role

Wasps are also just important in the environment. Social wasps are predators and as such they play a vital ecological role, controlling the numbers of potential pests like greenfly and many caterpillars.

Indeed, it has been estimated that the social wasps of the UK might account for 14 million kilograms of insect prey across the summer. A world without wasps would be a world with a very much larger number of insect pests on our crops and gardens.

As well as being voracious and ecologically important predators, wasps are increasingly recognised as valuable pollinators, transferring pollen as they visit flowers to drink nectar. It is actually their thirst for sweet liquids that helps to explain why they become so bothersome at this time of year.

By late August, wasp nests have very large numbers of workers but they have stopped raising any larvae. All the time nests have larvae, the workers must collect protein, which accounts for all those invertebrates they hunt in our gardens. The larvae are able to convert their protein-rich diet into carbohydrates that they secrete as a sugary droplet to feed the adults.

With no larvae, all those adult wasps must find other sources of sugar — hence why they are so attracted to our sugar-rich foods and drinks. When you combine that hunger for sugar with nice weather and our love of eating and drinking outside, the result is inevitable.

A new study is taking advantage of wasps’ love of our drinks to find out more about these fascinating and undervalued insects. Calling on members of the public to help, the Big Wasp Survey is asking people to build a simple wasp trap from a drinks bottle and a small volume of beer.

Scientists from University College London (UCL) and the University of Gloucestershire want to collect and study the contents of these beer traps. The project, in conjunction with BBC’s Countryfile and sponsored by the Royal Entomological Society, hopes to find out which species of wasps live where in the UK, and provide some baseline data for an annual Big Wasp Survey over the coming years.

As Dr Seirian Sumner (UCL) says: «The black and yellow wasps that bother us at picnics are social wasps and we would like to find out much more about where they live and how common they are; to do that we need the public’s help».

Insects are generally having a hard time; changing environments, changing climate, habitat loss and the use of insecticides are all taking their toll on these vital creatures.

Yet, whilst many take up the cause of the honeybee or extol the beauty of butterflies some of the most fascinating and important insects remain the most reviled. It’s time we stopped asking «what is the point of wasps» and started to appreciate them for the ecological marvels that they are.

How Wasps Work

You wake up inside a hexagonal chamber. There’s a burning hole in your side, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t move a finger. Paralyzed, you watch in horror as the pale, bulbous creature at the other end of the chamber begins to crawl toward you with hungry, snapping jaws …

Sure, you might be the unfortunate victim in the latest sci-fi horror flick, but more than likely — on this planet, anyway — you’re one of the millions of spiders and insects locked away by wasps each year to feed their growing broods of larvae.

Insect Image Gallery

This parasitic nursery arrangement is rather common with most species of wasp. It’s almost as infamous as the stings they pack to protect their nests — both have helped to give wasps a somewhat vicious reputation.

Honeybees evolved away from their prehistoric wasp ancestors to pursue a quiet life of making honey to feed the family at home. Though most modern adult wasps’ diets never evolved beyond eating pollen, they do bring home paralyzed victims for the kids to devour. Some even jumped at the opportunity to steal from bees and fellow wasps. Millions of years later, honeybees have achieved full-blown «cute» status and are the subjects of countless picture books, cartoons and children’s toys. Wasps, on the other hand, are lucky to land a gig as a sports mascot.

See also:  14 Plants That Repel Bees and Wasps (With Proof), BugWiz

No matter how uncultured they may seem in comparison to bees, wasps lead complex lives. Despite the fact you’ll never find anything called «wasp honey» at the local grocery store, wasps perform a vital service by helping to pollinate the world’s plant life and eliminate various six- and eight-legged pests.

In this article, we’ll examine the fascinating anatomy, lifestyle and social graces of one of the smallest creatures ever to chase grown men and women away from a picnic.


An amazingly diverse group of animals that have conquered almost every environment on earth.

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Butterflies, crickets, moths and other insects

Butterflies that flutter, wasps that sting, ants that swarm, termites, mantids, grasshoppers, moths, crickets and much more. Learn more about this amazingly diverse group of animals who have adapted to almost every environment on the planet.

Explore the largest group of animals on Earth, all of which have exoskeletons and three body parts- head, thorax and abdomen, six jointed limbs and a pair of antennae. Insects comprise 75% of all catalogued animal species and their success is attributed to their ability to fly. Being the only invertebrate with wings, insects are able to seek out new environments and escape unsuitable ones.

Insects play an essential role in the web of life. Discover how the interaction between insects and plants plays a crucial role in pollination and learn why pollination by insects is important for the environment and us.

Many insects are predators, parasites or parasitoids, learn about the great diversity of hunting strategies and behaviours insects use to capture or feed on their prey. Invertebrate predators, parasites and parasitoids play an important role in keeping many animal populations under control.

Discover rare insects and find out that they aren’t that «rare» at all. Entomologists, scientists who study insects, argue that it’s just a matter of knowing how to find them!

BugInfo Wasps, Ants, and Bees (Hymenoptera)

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    Defining the Order. This vast assemblage of insects is second only to Coleoptera (Beetles) in the number of worldwide, described species. Hymenoptera species number some 115,000, and Coleoptera species number some 300,000. Of the 6,000-7,000 new species of insects described annually, Hymenoptera is a large component, especially in the parasitic wasp groups. Nearly all commonly encountered Hymenoptera can be recognized by a narrow «waist.» When winged, the wings form two membranous pairs that can be hooked together. Ovipositors of Hymenopteta are usually well developed and modified into a stinger in the higher forms of the order. Because the «stinger» of such forms has developed from the ovipositor of females, male wasps are not able to sting. Many species of Hymenoptera are extremely small and are thus difficult to identify even to family. A publication by Edward Mockford in 1997 recorded discovery of a new species of tiny wasp that is now known as the tiniest existing insect.

    Benefits to mankind. This order of insects is considered to be the most beneficial to humankind of all the insects. The strongest benefit performed by most Hymenoptera is active pollination of plants, ensuring the proper development of many fruit and vegetable crops. Many kinds of Hymenoptera are also helpful in their actions of parasitism and predation on pest species of insects.

    Ants. These are familiar insects, and are most numerous in tropical forests, where surveys of tree species of insects have consistently shown that individuals of ants compose some 50 percent of the entomofauna. Some species of ants squirt formic acid into wounds. There are more than 8,000 species of ants in the world. Ants are often confused with termites, but have a slender waist and elbowed antennae. In some cases, ants can by pests, especially in such species as the Carpenter Ant, which invades houses near wooded areas. Fire Ants, of course, are a major concern in the Southern United States. Army Ants are perhaps the most fascinating species of ant, capable of preying upon insects, small reptiles, birds, and even small mammals.

    Leafcutter ants harvesting and carrying pieces of leaf.
    Title: Leafcutter Ants on Leaf.,
    Class: A Arthropoda. Order: Insecta. Family: Formicidae.
    Genus: Atta. Species: cephalotes.

    Wasps. This group of Hymenoptera includes some familiar types, such as Hornets, Spider Wasps, and Hunting Wasps. Sawflies are also a group of wasps, composed of several families, and noteworthy because they have no «waist» that is present in all other Hymenoptera. Tiny parasitic wasps are one of the most beneficial groups of insects, reducing populations of pest species. The Family Ichneumonidae includes vast numbers of parasites also, and is considered one of the largest families of insects.

    Bees. The most familiar bee, of course, is the Honeybee, a social insect that was imported from Europe for honey production. Most bees are not social and do not build large nests like the Honeybee. The most colorful of bees are a group of Tropical American insects called Orchid Bees, which have brilliant iridescent colors of green, blue and red. The males visit orchid flowers. Africanized Bees, or Killer Bees, are a major health threat to the population of the Southern United States, and are slowly expanding their geographic range. Entomologists are attempting to find ways to alleviate the invasion of this aggressive strain of bees.

    Africanized bee working a flower.

    Selected References:

    Evans, H. E. & Ebarhard, J. W. 1970. The Wasps. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor.

    Holldober, B. & Wilson, E. 0. 1990. The Ants. The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge.

    Krombein, K. V., Hurd, P. D. Jr., & Smith, D. R. 1979. Catalog of Hymenoptera in America North of Mexico. Volumes 1-3. Smithsonian Press, Washington, D. C.

    Michener, C. D. 1974. The Social Behavior of Bees. A Comparative Study. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

    Michener, C. D., McGinley, R. J. & Danforth, B. N. 1994. The Bee genera of North and Central America (Hymenoptera: Apoidea). Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington and London.

    Mitchell, T. B. 1960-1962. «Bees of Eastern United States.» Volume 1, Technical Bulletin141, North Carolina Agricultural Experiment Station.

    Prepared by the Department of Systematic Biology, Entomology Section,
    National Museum of Natural History, in cooperation with Public Inquiry Services,
    Smithsonian Institution

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