If it looks like a wasp, stings like a wasp—it’s a wasp

There are more than 100,000 species of the pesky insect

Did you know that hornets and yellow jackets are actually a type of wasp?

They are social wasps, meaning they form colonies around one reproductive queen.

More than 100,000 species of wasps live worldwide. Most of them are solitary; only 1,000 species are social wasps. About twenty social wasp species live in North America.

Social wasps fall into three main categories: paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets. In their larval form, they feed mainly feed on caterpillars and flies, which the adults chew into a paste that the young can consume.

The young will then produce a syrup that the adults eat. Adults may also drink nectar from flowering plants or eat fruit. Paper wasps like to build their nests in sheltered human buildings.

They make their hexagonal, honey-combed nests using wood pulp and saliva. The nest looks like an inverted umbrella with the open ends facing down.

This is where the workers congregate, performing feeding and guard duty, as well as keeping the nest clean.

A paper wasp nest is pretty small, normally containing five to thirty wasps. They are yellow and black; as well as red; and are usually less than an inch long.

Yellow jackets are about onehalf inch long and many times are confused with honeybees. However, the yellow jacket is a brighter yellow. Also, bees have a rounder and hairier body; whereas all wasps are slender and smooth. Yellow jackets aggressively defend their nests. Most yellow jackets build underground nests; however, they have been known to nest inside walls and attics.

A yellow jacket nest can contain 5,000 workers. In Texas, the most common yellow jacket is the confusedly-named “Bald Faced Hornet”.

These black and white yellow jackets are “aerial” nesters, building football-shaped nests that can get up to three feet tall. Yellow jackets feed primarily on caterpillars.

A small nest will eat up to 5,000 caterpillars in a summer. However, yellow jackets are also attracted to human food if left uncovered outside. The only true hornet found in the United States is the Giant, or European, Hornet, and it originated from Europe. We do not have any native hornets in North America.

The Giant Hor- net is brownand yellow and can grow to an inch long. Its territory is generally in the eastern part of the U.S.

They are rarely found in Texas, if at all. They are not listed in the Texas A&M Field Guide of Common Insects.

In late summer young queens and the male drones emerge and mate. The males will die after mating.

Come winter the rest of the nest dies, while the young queen hibernates.

In the spring the queen will begin building the nest to about a dozen cells. She then begins laying eggs. She will continue laying eggs all summer.

About twenty species of wasp are found in Texas, including the yellow jacket and paper wasp. The rest of the wasps are solitary.

Solitary wasps prey on insects that they paralyze and bring back to the nest to provide food for their larvae.

Depending on the species, solitary wasps build a nest above ground, co-opt someone else’s nest, or dig under ground to form a nest.

Mud Daubers are solitary wasps that build their own nest. They prey on spiders, and won’t attack unless handled.

Each wasp species is generally limited to a particular insect on which it preys.

Many are considered pests, such as grasshoppers, crickets, flies, caterpillar, and ants.

Wasps are a great biological control in farm fields and vegetable gardens.

Wasps are most aggressive between August and October, and can sting multiple times. Unsurprisingly, only female wasps have stingers.

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2011-06-02 digital edition

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