Wasps are stinging insects of the order Hymenoptera. Many live in large colonies which have a queen, males, and sterile female workers. Such social wasps are hornets.Wasps are called solitary if they do not live in communities, but build small brood nests to hold their young. Social wasps (hornets) make paper nests. One example is white-faced hornets, found all over North America. These wasps, 1.25 inches long and black with white markings, build nests, up to halfbushel size, in tree limbs. Yellow jacket species live in colonies of many thousands, close to or under the ground. Giant European hornets, in the United States since the 1850’s, are brown with yellow streaks and nest in hollow trees. In some wasp species, no workers are born and females lay eggs in the nests of other wasps.Wasp size varies from parasitic wasps, that can develop in insect eggs, to species attaining body lengths of over two inches.
Physical Characteristics of Wasps and Hornets
Wasp bodies, which are covered by coarse hairs, have a head, thorax (midbody), and abdomen (hind body) segments. Thoraxes hold four wings and six legs. The bodies are steel blue, black, yellow, or red, with abdominal rings. Reproductive, digestive, and excretory systems are in abdomen and thorax. Females have stingers at abdomen ends. Parasitic wasps use stingers to insert eggs into hosts. Female nonparasite wasps (which are most wasps) use stingers to paralyze their prey and inject venom. The stings are painful, because the venom contains histamine and a factor that dissolves red blood cells. Wasp stings, especially by hornets, can kill allergic humans. Wasp heads contain sharp, strong mandibles (jaws), designed to chew hard things, tear up food, dig burrows, and pulp wood and earth. Wasp mouths can also lap liquids. Above the mandibles, their heads contain paired, keen, compound eyes and paired sensory antennae. Queen wasps in social species are reproductive females who use sperm obtained in mating flights to fertilize eggs that become females. Unfertilized eggs become drones (males). Production of queens-tobe or female workers depends on diet.
Wasp Nests and Life Cycles
Nests of social wasps range from combs without protecting covers, to round nests up to ten inches in diameter, having paper tiered combs and waterproof outside covers. Social wasps nest wherever possible. Small combs occur under porch roof and rafters or in trees. There are two yellow jacket types, the long-faced and short-faced species. Long-faced yellow jackets nest in trees, bushes, and roofs, while the short-faced type nests in the ground. A wasp colony lasts one year. Wasps store no food, and in fall the whole colony dies except for the future queens. They hibernate in crannies over the winter and become queens of new colonies in spring. Acolony starts after a queen makes a few cells, lays an egg in each, and feeds larvae with chewed-up insects. Next, larvae spin cocoons and pupate for several weeks, emerging as workers. After this, a queen does nothing except lay eggs. The eggs yield worker wasps until late summer, when the queen lays eggs that will become males and queens.Workers tend the young and enlarge the nests. A hornet nest may have thousands of males, females, workers, and young. Solitary wasps live alone except for breeding. Afterward, females build flat, one-comb nests. Instead of being papermaker wasps, they are mason, carpenter and digger wasps. Among mason wasps are potters and stoneworkers. Potters wasps make mortar of mud and saliva and place brood nests in trees. Mud dauber wasps mix mud with saliva and build nests under porch roofs. Stone worker wasps mix pebbles with mud and nest on rocks. Carpenter wasps tunnel into trees and digger wasps tunnel into the ground. All adult wasps eat caterpillars, spiders, beetles, flies, other insects, and nectar. Solitary wasp species feed their larvae with specific live insects. Mothers set up nurseries, paralyze prey by piercing nerve centers with their stings, and take the live food to nests. Then they lay an egg on each body. Larvae feed on the insects until they begin spinning cocoons to pupate, emerging after pupation as adult wasps.
North American short-faced yellow jacket wasps (hornets) are 0.75 inches long, with yellow and black head, thorax, and abdomen markings that give them their name. They nest below grass level near decaying wood. Their nests are paper, made from saliva and wood. Each nest has a queen, who lays all eggs. Fertilized eggs become females and unfertilized eggs become males. Reproductive females are produced when the colony is ending its one-year life span. Sterile females tend the nest and larvae. Reproductive females eventually become queens, and males mate with queens-to-be. The yellow jacket diet is insects, fruit, and nectar. Only worker yellow-jackets hunt food, which they eat by tearing it with their mandibles. Queens live for ten months, while drones or workers only live for a few weeks.
Most wasps help humans and the environment. They damage some fruit, but they destroy myriad caterpillars, beetles, flies and other harmful insects. Thus, they do far more good than harm. Several species pollinate farm crops. Furthermore, the parasitic varieties lay their eggs in the bodies and eggs of pests such as aphids, thereby reducing their numbers.
Order: Hymenoptera (wasps, ants, and bees)
Suborders: Apocrita, Symphyta (wood wasps)
Superfamilies: Vespoidea, Sphecoidea, Bethyloidea, Scolioidea, Chalcidoidea
Families: Include Vespidae (hornets), Sphecidae, Chrysididae (cuckoo wasps), Pompilidae (spider wasps), Tiphiidae, Scoliidae, Mutillidae Genus and species: Include Vespula, such as V. vulgaris (common wasp, or yellow jacket); V. maculata (bald-faced or white-faced hornet), V. crabro (European hornet); Polistes, such as P. fuscatus (golden paper wasp); Eumenes iturbide pedalis and E. fraternus (potter or mason wasp); Sceliphron caementarium (black-andyellow mud-dauber wasp); Pepsis limbata (tarantula hawk); Sphecius speciosus (cicada killer)
Geographical location: Europe, Asia, and the Americas
Habitat: Trees in forests, woods, and plains; on or under rocks; in the ground; around human habitations
Gestational period: About one month for hatching and pupation
Life span: Varies; queens live up to ten months, while drones or workers live for a few weeks Special anatomy: Six legs, three on each side of thorax; two pairs of wings
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