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Do Wasps Live in Colonies?

Last Updated: 16.04.24


If you want to find out more about how wasps live, feed, are organized within the nest, and especially how they behave around humans, you will find the information provided in this article to be very interesting. Most of us are worried mainly of the wasp – human interactions, without realizing the major impact wasps have on our surrounding environment.

Some of the most commonly known wasps are called yellow jackets and hornets. They live in nests of various sizes and have one egg-laying queen and many workers that never reproduce. Wasps live all over the world, except for the polar areas, and the first fossil evidence of their existence dates back as early as the Jurassic period.

There are many species of wasps out there, and only some of them have an egg-laying queen. Many species have developed into solitary wasps, meaning they live alone, not in organized groups of families, such as nests. These solitary wasps lay eggs themselves, but they will use other insects’ nests to do that, therefore being considered parasitoidal insects.


A queen wasp’s size

The wasp queen is colored in bright yellow with black stripes, she has a triangular head, a very narrow waist, a long abdomen that ends with a pointing, sharp sting. The wasp queen is also the leader of the nest and the only one that has a reproductive purpose in the nest. All the worker wasps have the main job of feeding and looking after the queen since she will only leave the nest in late summer to breed.

Depending on the wasp species we are looking at, the queen’s size can be very similar to that of a regular worker wasp, the biggest difference being noticed on her abdomen, which is pointed in contrast to the normal wasp. For most wasp species, the queen is almost identical to the worker wasps, thus making it quite difficult for the inexperienced average person to tell the queen from the workers.

However, the length of the queen wasps is what we need to first notice. For most wasp species, the queen is longer than the rest of the worker wasps. The queen wasp measures up to 1 inch in length, whereas regular worker wasps will measure up to 0.7 inches in length. The main reason for this difference is that the queen’s sole purpose is that of laying eggs.

The best time to see a queen wasp is in early spring when she will be looking for a place to build a nest or in the late summer when queen wasps usually leave the nest to breed. They can be seen anywhere from parks and gardens to meadows and woods. You may even spot one in the winter time, if she chooses to hibernate in your garden shed, or anywhere else close to your home, such as your attic.

What is the lifespan of wasps?

The average lifespan of a wasp depends on the place it has within the nest. Worker wasps have the shortest lifespan, drones have a slightly longer lifespan than worker wasps, whereas the queen wasps have the longest lifespan of them all. Since the entire nest activity revolves around feeding and caring for the queen, it is expected for her to live the longest.

The regular worker wasps, also called sterile females, have a short lifespan of around 12 to 22 days. Their main job within the nest is to provide for the queen. They are to build new cells where the queen will lay her eggs, clean the cells that wasps have already hatched from, and go out foraging in order to provide food for the entire nest.

The drones, also called fertile males, have a slightly longer lifespan than worker wasps do, of up to a month. Most males die shortly after mating simply because they are not accepted back into their original colony. Their main purpose is to mate with the queen wasps from other colonies, and after the mating flights are over, they will soon perish too. Since their body is not adapted to survive without the food and care provided by the wasp workers, they cannot survive outside the colony for long.

The queen wasp is the one with the longest lifespan, as she will live for approximately 12 months. The main trait of these wasps is that they are fertile females. Being able to lay eggs means that they will make a nest of their own, and from their eggs will emerge the worker wasps that will feed her and care for her for the rest of her life.


How does a wasp become queen?

At the beginning of the spring, the queen wasp will end her hibernation period and start looking for a suitable place to build her nest. She will first choose the best place for her new home, then the queen will start building the first cells of her home. She uses paper to do that. Paper is what scientists call the wood that she chews herself in order to make it a suitable nest building material.

After building the first cells, the queen lays her first eggs, from which will emerge the sterile females called worker wasps. This process lasts for about a month, and after that, the worker wasps will take over the nest building activity, as well as foraging and providing food for the entire nest. The queen will continue laying eggs for the rest of her life.

Some of the eggs the queen lays will hatch into fertile males, also called drones, and fertile females. The fertile males are the ones that keep the mating process going, but the fertile females have the potential of becoming next year’s queens. Both fertile males and females can leave the nest, looking for a place to hibernate and then, in the case of females, start a nest of their own in the spring.

Does removing the queen get rid of the nest?

This is mostly a matter of timing. Removing the queen from the nest can either have absolutely no effect, the queen being quickly replaced by another young queen, or it can completely wipe out the entire colony. To better understand why it is a matter of timing, we need to take a closer look at the life cycle of these insects.

Early in the spring is when the queen will lay her first eggs, starting to build a new colony. These eggs usually hatch into sterile female workers. If the queen is removed now from the colony, it will destroy the entire nest. As spring turns into summer, other previously laid eggs will hatch into fertile males and females. This gives the colony the option of having more than one queen per nest. Also, these fertile females can fly out of the colony, becoming solitary wasps for a while.

If the queen is removed at this moment from the colony, she will be rapidly replaced by a younger fertile female or an existing second queen of the colony. Given the great diversity of behaviors these insects display, and the extraordinary adaptability they have proven throughout time, they will soon find a new queen rather than just die.


What is the impact of agriculture on wasps?

Because agriculture is continuously expanding as a result of higher and higher demands of products for human consumption, wasps started losing a lot of their natural habitat. Given that they are very versatile and easily adapt to new environments, the habitat loss has not yet caused a drastic decrease in their numbers.

However, the loss of habitat together with the intense usage of pesticides and other chemical substances, both of them used in large amounts in agriculture, has caused serious damage to these insects, as well as others. Poisoning them with chemicals is the fastest way to get rid of wasps, and of the positive effect they have on our surrounding environment.

We must all work together in order to raise awareness among our farmers, in order to protect these harmless insects. As long as we stay away from them, they will stay away from us, minding their own business and positively impacting our world.




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