Wasps usually become a problem in late summer and it is at this time of year that most people suffer from stings, which can be fatal at times. However wasps have been active since spring time, building and increasing their nest until it can contain 30,000 wasps by late summer.
A wasps' nest is constructed of chewed wood which is mixed with the saliva of the wasp until a texture of paper is achieved; this substance is then moulded into cell-like structures to make the nest. The construction of the nest is carried out by the workers of the colony.
Queen wasps will come out of hibernation at spring time to start building a nest, at the same time she lays the first eggs; workers emerge a few weeks later. Workers will continue to construct the nest throughout summer whilst the queen will continue to lay eggs, producing both sterile and fertile wasps. During autumn, fertile wasps mate and the workers die off. The newly-fertilised females are the only wasps to survive and hibernate over winter. A wasps' nest is never used again.
Wasps' nests are usually found either in lofts or embankments and can easily be treated either by destruction of the nest or by the application of an insecticide.
What do wasps do?
Wasps eat flies, aphids, caterpillars and other invertebrates, making them an important insect-controlling predator. Wasps are amazing architects, building paper nests from chewed up wood.
They are master crafts-women (all workers are female). The nest is made up of combs of hexagonal paper cells and provides a home for some of our most beautiful, pollinating hoverflies.
How many species of wasp are there?
There are around 250 species of wasps in the UK. A handful of these wasps are social animals, the majority are solitary and cause no upset to humans. The Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) is found throughout the UK in almost all habitats, including woodland and urban areas. Known as the yellowjacket wasp in the USA, these insects are nicknamed jaspers in the Midlands, deriving either from the Latin for wasp, vespa, or from the similarity in looks to the striped mineral jasper.
The Common Wasp is the most frequently-seen wasp in the UK and is easily identified by most people. Adult workers measure 12-17 mm whereas the queen is around 20mm. Black and yellow stripes give a clear warning to other animals that these insects are dangerous. With the abdomen split into six segments, one black/yellow stripe on each, the Common Wasp is very similar to the German Wasp. The key difference is that Common Wasps lack the three black dots on the head and distinct black dots on the back as they merge with the back stripes.
Why do wasps sting?
Wasps have a sting to allow them to capture and immobilise their prey (such as aphids, caterpillars, flies and spiders). They may also sting to defend their nest. Learn more about stings here.