Wasps and their uses

There are approximately 30,000 identified species of Wasps. We are mostly familiar with the ones that are wrapped in bright colors, such as the yellow jacket and hornets. Wasps come in a vast array of colors, the very familiar yellow to bright red, brown, and even metallic blue. The brighter colored species of Wasps are in the Vespidae family, other wise known as the stinging wasps. What you may not know is most wasps are actually solitary, non-stinging insects. They all do far more good for us by controlling other pest populations than harming us.

Wasps are very distinguishable from bees. They have pointed lower abdomens and a narrow “waist” that separates the abdomen from the thorax. Wasps are divided into two primary subgroups: Social and Solitary. Social wasps make up about a thousand species of Wasps, including the awesome colony-builders, the yellow jackets and hornets.

All wasps build nests. Wasps create papery abodes from wood fibers scraped with their hard mandibles and chewed into a pulp. Bees, on the other hand, secrete a waxy substance to construct their nests.

Social wasp colonies start from scratch each spring by a queen who was fertilized the previous year. These queens usually will hibernate in a warm place during the winter. Once the queen emerges, she builds a small nest and raises a starter brood of worker females. These workers begin to expand the nest, building multiple six-sided cells, into which the queen will continuously lays eggs. By the end of the summer, a colony could have more than 5,000 members, all of whom die off at winter, including the queen. Only the newly fertilized queens will survive the winter to start the process over in the spring. If a Social wasp is in distress, it will emit a pheromone that sends nearby colony members into a defensive, stinging frenzy. Unlike bees, wasps can sting repeatedly. Only female wasps have stingers. The stingers are actually modified egg-laying organs.

Solitary wasps are by far the largest subgroup. They do not form colonies. This group includes some of the wasps largest members: the cicada killers and the striking blue-and-orange tarantula hawks. Both of these wasps can grow to be 1.5 inches (3.8 centimeters) in length.

Despite the fear the wasps sometimes evoke, they are extremely beneficial to humans. Almost every insect on Earth is preyed upon by a species of wasps, either as food or as a host for it’s parasitic larvae. Wasps are widely used as a form of agricultural pest control because they prey mostly on pest insects and have very little impact on crops.