Wasps are the kind of insects that belong to the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita. Wasps are neither bees nor ants; they have pointed lower abdomens and a narrow petitole, which segregates their abdomen from the thorax region. This is what differentiates wasps from the bees. There are around 30,000 species of wasps known to the human being. In day to day life, we recognize wasps as brightly colored insects with a strong buzz, flying around in frenzy, trying to sting us. But the fact is, most of the wasps can not sting; they are rather good for human beings as they help in controlling the pest insect growth. Wasps are found in a variety of colors; the wasps that sting are generally bright in color. Another distinctive difference between a wasp and a bee is, wasps construct nests from wood fibers extracted and chewed into a pulp, while the bees secrete a waxy substance to build their nests. Most of the wasps have the parasitic tendencies, they lay eggs directly into the body of the host. Some of these parasitic wasps have venomous sting. The common characteristics of wasps are: tow pairs of wings, a stinger or ovipositor (only present in the females), few thickened hair and a pair of talons. Almost all the wasps are terrestrial insects. Wasps can be divided into two categories: solitary wasps and social wasps. Know more about the categorization and different types of wasps in this article.
Different Types of Wasps
Categorization Of Wasps
- Solitary wasps are not into forming of or living in colonies. Some of the wasp family’s largest members are included in this group. Examples of such wasps are: cicada killers, tarantula hawks, etc.
- The adult solitary wasps do not construct nests and move around alone. But, all these types of wasps are fertile. Since these wasps do not build their own nests and all the females of this type are fertile, they lay their eggs in, on or next to an insect after paralyzing it with their venom.
- Some of these wasps lay their eggs on the leaves or stems of a plant. The whole point of doing this is, when the larva develops, it consumes this paralyzed or dead insect or the leave of the tree as its food.
- The males of this type of wasps die soon after mating but, the females guard their nests. Because of the absence of a proper shelter, many solitary wasps survive the winters as pupae.
- Solitary wasps also have different types of wasps under their category. Digger/sand wasps dig underneath their prey’s nest and bring this paralyzed prey to their larvae. Potter/ mason wasps generally attach themselves to the twigs. Gall wasps lay eggs inside of the plant tissue. Ichneumon lays its eggs inside or over the larvae of other insects. Velvet ants and cuckoo wasps rather lay eggs inside the nest of the other insects.
- These wasps are commonly known as paper wasps, hornets and yellow jackets.
- Their peculiar quality is that these wasps build a communal nest, commonly shared by the wasps of their kind. These nests are built by mixing wood fibers with their saliva, which forms a paper like material and then molded into nest components.
- Workers, or the wasps that peculiarly work on making the nest, cling to the underside of the parts of the nest where larvae is reared (comb). This is how the workers guard the larvae, feed it from time to time and perform other housekeeping duties.
- The social wasps usually feed on caterpillars, bugs, spiders and flies. The adult social wasps chew up the bodies of their prey, convert them into a paste and feed them to the larvae. In return, the larvae produce nutritional syrup, which is then consumed by the adults. The social wasps do not store the food.
- These wasp colonies have an effective defense mechanism; they sting the predators and guard the fellow wasps and larvae in the communal nest. A wasp has the capability to sting repeatedly, chemicals released from this stinging cause the pain and irritation.
- There are four stages in the life cycle of a wasp: egg, larva, pupa and the adult. The egg metamorphosizes into an adult in several weeks time.
- There exists a strong caste system in the colonies of the wasps: queens - egg laying fertile females, drones - fertile males and workers - infertile females who take care of the nest and guard it from predators.
- Most of these wasps, whether the workers or drones or the queen, do not survive the winters. Only the young fertile female wasps who have been fertilized by the drones hibernate for the winters and start the process of building a new nest next season. The old nest is almost always never used again.
- After the queen wasp wakes up from its winter long hibernation, it begins the search for an appropriate nesting site. It then constructs the basic nest and lays eggs in it.
- The sperms are also kept dormant over the winters and now they are used to fertilize the eggs. The queen does not need the mating again; she can store the sperms inside her body. Therefore, a single queen is capable of populating the whole colony.
- When all of the basic structure is constructed and the queen has laid eggs, then the infertile wasps gather around and start to give their assistance in maintaining the nest, nurturing the larvae and protecting the colony.
- By the end of the season, the queen runs out of sperms stored in her body, to fertilize more eggs. The existing eggs develop into fertile males and females. The male wasps then fly out, to mate with other fertile wasps. While, the female fertile wasps stay in the vicinity of their nest. These young queens will leave the nest only when it’s winter time, to hibernate. The fertile male and the female wasps of the same nest do not mate with each other, to ensure that the genetic variation is maintained.
- Unlike honey bee, wasp queen only live for a year and does not have any more status in its colony than that of the reproductive element and initial nest builder.
Other Types Of Wasps
- Fig Wasps: There are more than 900 known species of fig wasps. These wasps built their nest inside the fig plant. This arrangement benefits both the plant and the wasps; wasps help in the pollination process of the fig plant and fig plant provides shelter and food for the wasps. This is called fig-wasp mutualism and it first originated approximately 90 million years ago.
- Yellow Jackets: Yellow jackets are social hunters, maneuvering in colonies and hunting a host of insects that prey on cultivated plants. They have a rapid side to side flight pattern, just when about to land. Almost all of the yellow jacket females sting. Adults feed on items rich in carbohydrates and sugar, while the larvae feeds on proteins, like: meat, fish, insects, etc.
- Cuckoo Wasps: These wasps are mainly found in the desert region, like many other solitary wasps and are considered to be invasive. Their technique of breeding is to leave their larvae in the nest of other wasps and insects, along side their larvae and accumulated food. When the eggs of cuckoo wasp hatches, the larvae itself feeds on the food available around it.
- Velvet Ants: These are solitary wasps, feeding their larvae on the larvae of other insects’. The females of velvet ant wasps are wingless and have multitude of hair on their body. They can be scarlet, black, white, silver or gold in color.
- Cicada Killer Wasps: These are solitary wasps, large in size and predatory in nature. They dwell the ground to lay their eggs, after killing the cicadas and merging their nests with them.
- There are other important types of wasps as well, like: gall wasps, fairyflies, spider wasps, scoliid wasps, digger wasps, flower wasps, common wasps, hornets, paper wasps, potter wasps, pollen wasps, etc.