2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Insects, Reptiles and Fish

Aleiodes indiscretusparasitizing gypsy moth caterpillar
Aleiodes indiscretus
parasitizing gypsy moth caterpillar
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera

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Polistes dominulus building nest in California
Polistes dominulus building nest in California
Wasp drinking syrup
Wasp drinking syrup
The basic morphology of a female yellowjacket wasp
The basic morphology of a female yellowjacket wasp
Wasp stinger, with droplet of venom
Wasp stinger, with droplet of venom
The wasp's fine hairs are visible in this photograph.
The wasp's fine hairs are visible in this photograph.
Wasp ocelli (simple eyes) and dorsal part of the compound eyes
Wasp ocelli (simple eyes) and dorsal part of the compound eyes

A wasp is any insect of the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita that is not a bee or an ant. Less familiar, the suborder Symphyta includes the sawflies and wood wasps, which differ from the Apocrita by having a broad connection between the thorax and abdomen. Also, Symphyta larvae are mostly herbivorous and " caterpillarlike", whereas those of Apocrita are largely predatory or parasitic.

Most familiar wasps belong to the Aculeata, a division of the Apocrita, whose ovipositors are modified into a venomous stinger. Aculeata also contains ants and bees. In this sense, the species called "velvet ants" ( Mutillidae) are actually wasps.

A narrower meaning of the term wasp is any member of the Aculeate family Vespidae, which includes the yellowjackets (Vespula, Dolichovespula spp.) and hornets (Vespa spp.).


The following characteristics are present in most wasps:

  • Two pairs of wings (exceptions: all female Mutillidae, Bradynobaenidae, many male Agaonidae, many female Ichneumonidae, Braconidae, Tiphiidae, Scelionidae, Rhopalosomatidae, Eupelmidae, and various other families).
  • An ovipositor or stinger (only present in females because it derives from the ovipositor).
  • Few or no hairs (in contrast to bees); exceptions: Mutillidae, Bradynobaenidae, Scoliidae. Though less efficient than bees, some wasp species are significant pollinators.
  • Nearly all terrestrial; only a few specialized parasitic groups are aquatic.
  • Predators or parasitoids, mostly on other terrestrial insects; some species of Pompilidae, such as the tarantula hawk, specialize in using spiders as prey, and various parasitic wasps use spiders or other arachnids as hosts.

Wasps are critically important in natural biocontrol. Almost every pest insect species has a wasp species that is predator or parasite upon it. Parasitic wasps are also increasingly used in agricultural pest control.

Reproduction in wasps

Generally wasps do not have a mating flight. Instead they reproduce between a single queen and a male drone in the vicinity of their nesting area. After successfully mating, the drone's sperm cells are stored in a tightly packed ball inside the queen. The sperm are kept stored in a dormant state until the following spring. At a certain time of year (often around autumn time) the bulk of the wasp colony dies away, leaving only the young mated queens alive. During this time they leave the nest and find a suitable area to hibernate for the winter.

After emerging from hibernation during early spring, the young queens search for a suitable nesting site. Upon finding an area for her future colony, the queen usually constructs a basic paper nest into which she will begin to lay eggs. This varies from species to species in specifics, as not all wasps live in paper nests.

The sperm that was stored earlier and kept dormant over winter is now used to fertilize the eggs being laid. The storage of sperm inside the female queen allows her to lay a considerable number of fertilized eggs without the need for repeated mating with a male wasp. For this reason a single female queen is quite capable of building an entire colony from only herself. The eggs laid initially are sterile female workers who will begin to construct a more elaborate nest around their queen and take over her role of feeding the larvae.

In wasps, sexes are significantly genetically different. Females have a diploid (2n) number of chromosomes and come about from fertilized eggs. Males, in contrast, have a haploid (n) number of chromosomes and develop from an unfertilised egg.

Towards the end of the summer, the female wasps begin to run out of stored sperm to fertilize more eggs. These eggs develop into fertile males and fertile female queens. The male drones then fly out of the nest and find a mate thus perpetuating the wasp reproductive cycle. The queens will then leave the colony to hibernate for the winter once the other wasps begin to die off. After successfully mating with a young queen, the male drones die off. Generally young queens and drones from the same nest do not mate with each other.

Unlike most species of bee queens, the wasp queens only live for one year although exceptions are possible. Contrary to popular belief, the queen wasp does not organize the wasp colony or have any raised status amongst the social group. She is rather the reproductive element of the colony as all members of the colony are theoretically direct genetic descendants of the queen.

Wasp parasitism

With most species, adult parasitic-wasps themselves do not take any nutrients from their prey. Indeed, adult parasitic-wasps, much like bees, butterflies, and moths, derive all of their nutrition from nectar or the sweet secretions from their brood. Parasitic-wasps paralyze their prey by injecting it with venom through their stingers. They then inject the prey with eggs; when the eggs hatch, the larvae eat the prey alive, saving the vital organs for last. They pupate inside the prey's body, and upon becoming adults, cut a hole in the prey's skin and fly out.


The nests of social wasps are first constructed by the queen and are initially about the size of a walnut. The size of the nest increases as more workers are propogated. Unlike honeybees, wasps have no wax producing gland. They manufacture a paper-like material from wood pulp. Wood fibers are gathered from weathered wood, softened by chewing and mixing with saliva. The paper is then used to make combs with cells for brood rearing.

Common families

  • Agaonidae - fig wasps
  • Chalcididae
  • Chrysididae - cuckoo wasps
  • Crabronidae
  • Cynipidae - gall wasps
  • Encyrtidae
  • Eulophidae
  • Eupelmidae
  • Ichneumonidae, and Braconidae
  • Mutillidae - velvet ants
  • Mymaridae - fairyflies
  • Pompilidae - spider wasps
  • Pteromalidae
  • Scelionidae
  • Scoliidae - scoliid wasps
  • Sphecidae - digger wasps, e.g. the Cicada killer wasp
  • Tiphiidae - flower wasps
  • Torymidae
  • Trichogrammatidae
  • Vespidae - yellowjackets, hornets, paper wasps.

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