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What Happens to Wasps in The Cold Season?

Last Updated: 16.06.24


If you are considering what the best yellow jacket trap would be, you might want at first to take a closer look at how these interesting insects live. The life expectancy of wasps varies depending on the role they play within the colony. But first let’s better understand what wasps are, how they live and how the average colony is organized.

Wasps belong to the family Vespidae and they are eusocial, meaning they live close together in colonies or nests. Wasps are found across the world, except the polar areas. There are two kinds of wasps out there, depending on the species they belong to. Some of the species live together in nests, while others live alone. They are called solitary wasps.

Most wasp species will form colonies or nests. The most widely known species of colony wasps are the yellow jackets and hornets. Their nest is organized into three types of wasps living in it: the workers, the drones, and the queen wasp. Solitary wasps are considered to be parasitoidal insects because they lay their eggs in the nests of other insects.

Wasps play an important role in keeping a balance in our surrounding environment. Since they eat nectar, fruits and also other small insects, wasps help to keep the pest insect population under control, they help pollinate plants and also help with decaying fruits that have fallen from trees. Their impact on the environment is overall a positive one.


What roles wasps play within the colony

Scientists claim wasps have been around for a very long time since evidence of wasp fossils have been found dating as far back as the Jurassic period. Since then, a lot has changed in terms of climate and environment but wasps are still here today. This proves that they have an amazing capacity of adapting to ever-changing surroundings and living conditions.

The average wasp nest consists of worker wasps, drone wasps, and the queen wasp. Each of these three wasp categories plays a distinctive role within the colony, thus ensuring the colony’s long life. So, let’s take a closer look at how these tiny insects live and the role they so well play in the nest, also contributing to the environment.

The worker wasps are sterile females that hatch from the egg as mature, ready-to-work wasps. They play a key part within the colony. Their purpose is to further build cells in which the queen wasp will lay her eggs, to clean the existing cells that others have already hatched from and to go out foraging in order to keep the entire colony well fed. Their main part is in keeping the queen fed and well taken care of.

The waps drones are fertile males that will fly out of the colony and mate with other queen wasps, this way ensuring the genetic material of all colonies is kept at a proper level. The males will shortly die after mating, mainly because they will not be accepted back into their original colony. Given that they are not adapted to surviving without the food and care provided by the worker wasps, fertile males will soon get dehydrated and starve to death.

The queen wasp is the fertile female of the colony, having the main purpose of laying eggs. The lifespan of a queen is of approximately 12 months, compared to those of worker wasps and drones that do not exceed one month. She will fly out of the nest in late summer to mate, but other than that she completely relies on worker wasps for food and care.

What is the life cycle of wasps?

The queen wasp will emerge in early spring and start looking for the most suitable place to build her nest. After having chosen it, she will start chewing wood parts in order to make the perfect nest building material. After the building of the first cells is completed, the queen wasp lays one egg in each cell. After a period of about a month, adult worker wasps will hatch from those eggs.

From that point on, the worker wasps will take on the job of further building the nest as well as feeding the queen, as she will only lay eggs from now on, for the rest of her life. Usually, the first eggs that are laid will hatch into sterile worker females, whereas eggs that are being laid later on will hatch into fertile males, fertile females or more sterile worker females.

As spring turns into summer, the fertile males and females have the option of staying within the colony or flying out of it and turning into solitary wasps. Depending on the wasp species they belong to, some of them will stay, some will not. Fertile females will sometimes stay within the colony and become a second queen in the nest. Others may fly out, mate and seek a hibernation place in order to start their own colony in the spring.

As summer turns into late summer, the queen will fly out of the nest, seeking mating partners. This exchange of genetic pools in between the existing colonies ensures the most suitable genes are passed on and prevents inbreeding to a large extent. The adaptability these insects have proven over time mostly depends on this way of breeding.


What happens in the winter time?

During the winter most of the colony members will, sadly, not survive. And this happens not because of cold weather, but because of lack of food. Wasps feed on nectar, other insects, and fallen fruits, therefore all of their food sources are scarce, to say the least, during the cold winter months. Entire colonies and nests are wiped out because they have nothing to eat anymore.

Here is where Mother Nature is yet again very clever and comes to show how these insects are perfectly adapted to the situation. The only wasps to survive the winter are young fertile females that had previously mated, in the summertime. They have an extraordinary ability to hibernate while they carry fertilized eggs. Queen wasps will emerge in early spring, look for a place to build their nest and start the whole life cycle all over again.

However, some of the hibernating queens will not make it over the winter months either, mainly because of other animals or insects eating them. When winter approaches, female wasps will look for a suitable place to hibernate, such as a garden shed, the wood underneath rooftops and other such places. The downside of this is that they share these spaces with other insects that not only do not hibernate but will also make a tasty meal out of the wasps.

Another thing to be kept in mind is that, unlike bees, wasps are carnivorous, meaning they will also feed on other small insects that invade gardens in the summertime, such as aphids, therefore giving plants a real chance to flower. Wasps overall have a positive impact on the environment, and, as long as we let them be, they will not sting us.

Agriculture effects on wasps

Because there is a high demand for agriculture-based products for human consumption, farmers started using larger quantities of pesticides and other chemicals on vast areas of crops. The overuse of these chemical substances has a major negative impact on the overall insect population of these areas, and not only on insects.

Chemical poisoning is one of the fastest ways to get rid of these most interesting insects and of the positive impact they have on the environment. All of us should work together raising awareness among the local farmers. The more informed people are and the more they care about the impact chemical over-usage has on the existing wildlife, the better it will be for all of us.   




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