Wasps are social insects meaning that they live in groups and are predaceous meaning they eat mostly insects. They have two main body parts, an abdomen and a thorax. Their head has three pairs of eyes and a pair of antennae. Their thorax has six legs and two pairs of wings. Their abdomen has three segments, each segment having a single pair of spiracles (breathing holes) through which they breathe. Wasps come in all sorts of colours including black, white, yellow and even red! However some types of wasps have a combination of colours such as black and white or black and yellow. They have no stinger although they do produce venom that can be used to paralyse their prey or injected into other creatures as a defense mechanism. There are apparently 100,000 different species of wasp worldwide with around 10,000 in Europe alone. The most common wasp species are:
The German wasps are what most people think of when they hear the word “wasp”. These are large, black and yellow insects that can grow to 18mm in length. They mainly live in urban areas or woodlands near towns but can be found anywhere in the UK. They make nests out of papery material and build them inside small holes or gaps such as under a roof tile or at the base of an external wall. The Queen will spend around 12 months establishing the nest before it is ready to produce workers (there are no males). In total there are around 1500 wasps per nest which is why they have such a reputation for attacking anything that enters their territory. German Wasps have long legs with hair on their body which helps protect against predators such as birds, lizards and spiders. They are particularly aggressive compared to other wasp species because their breeding cycle is dependent on food.
These wasps are slightly smaller than the previous two and have more reddish-orange colouring. They do not build nests in such confined spaces as German or Common wasps preferring to live in natural areas which can be anything from woodlands, old trees, or even holes made by other animals. Like the others they will sting if you get too close but tend to avoid people so bites are less likely than with other species.
European hornets are very similar in appearance to the German wasps but tend to be slightly larger, growing up to the length of a human thumb. They are the only hornets in the UK and their stings and venoms are more powerful and painful than the others.
They live just like the other species of wasp preferring a paper nest which is usually built high up in trees or walls. Adult Hornets can be distinguished from other wasps by their brownish colouring and black legs although they do still have yellow patches on their body. Again, they share characteristics with other species in that they will attack if disturbed although unlike the German or Common wasps, you won’t get stung by accidentally brushing past them as European hornets hunt for food rather than relying on scavenging for it.
Although there are different species of wasps, they all typically share the same lifecycle. They build nests either above or below ground in which they lay their eggs. The larvae emerge from these eggs and live for 2-3 years in the soil. When they are fully grown, they pupate into adult wasps that emerge later to mate and lay more eggs. Adult wasps spend most of their lives flying around and feeding on nectar, other insects and some on sweet things such as fruit and other sugary foods. This cycle repeats itself until late Autumn when it becomes too cold for them to survive outside. They can hibernate inside their nests if the temperature drops below -5 degrees Celsius but otherwise they perish with winter.
Wasp nests have many functions and play an important role within nature. A single nest can also have many different functions depending on what stage it has reached in its lifecycle – whether that’s housing a growing larva, protecting an egg or storing pollen and nectar gathered by worker wasps during their daily hunts for food. Smaller nests tend to be occupied by solitary queens living alone while larger ones are usually found in large groups and contain multiple generations of workers who all help to defend the nest against intruders. Queens build the grey or brown-coloured nests with paper pulp. The paper is produced by the wasp from wood and plant fibre that they chew up into a paste-like substance that they then use to form walls for their home. These nests are built in trees, shrubs, bushes, under roof eaves and porches and beneath window ledges. Sometimes you can find nests underground near rich sources of vegetation – such as a river bank full of juicy roots or woodland containing many fruit-bearing shrubs. Sometimes a queen or her colony will outgrow a nest and she will rebuild it elsewhere reusing some parts so as not to waste any building material. Additionally, she will usually take most of her eggs with her – including the fertilised ones that have yet to hatch so as not to lose any potential offspring in the move!
Some species of wasps sting as a defense behavior when threatened or attacked, while others are capable of stinging repeatedly without being harmed themselves. Wasp stings normally only cause minor allergic reactions such as swelling or pain for people who have previously been stung before. A severe reaction can result in redness around the wound, difficulty breathing, dizziness and nausea. However, there is no way to predict how someone will react to a sting so it is important to be very mindful of wasp nests and be ready to call for an ambulance quickly if you find yourself experiencing severe symptoms. For professional wasp control and wasp nest removal, get in touch with our pest team today.