Vespula vulgaris L Common wasp

Wasps are generally abundant, well-known insects and are often regarded as pests. They feed avidly on ripening or over-ripe apples, grapes, pears, plums and other fruits, especially those previously damaged by birds or other agents; wasps thereby become a nuisance. The presence of such insects in fruit plantations at harvest is also a potential hazard to fruit pickers, even when the insects are foraging only on fallen fruits. Wasps are sometimes also a problem in flower borders and nurseries, where they may remove tissue from the stems of woody plants such as garden dahlia; injured plants often then collapse. This plant material, in common with that removed from wooden posts, shed walls, etc., is used in nest construction. Although much maligned, wasps are also beneficial insects, as they prey during the spring and summer on harmful caterpillars and other pests that are then fed to their developing brood.


Vespid wasps are social insects, with three distinct castes: queens, workers and males. Young, fertilized queens overwinter and eventually emerge in the spring. Each soon begins to search for a suitable nesting site, such as a hollow tree or a dry, underground cavity in the soil. A wasp's nest is formed from grey (as in Vespula germanica), brown or yellow (as in V. vulgaris), masticated wood pulp and contains numerous papery cells in each of which an egg is laid and a larva reared. As the season progresses, new cells are constructed and further eggs are deposited. The colony increases rapidly in size, especially after the first young adult worker wasps have emerged and aid the mother queen in the task of tending the brood. Workers also eventually take over all foraging duties; this allows the queen to remain within the comparative safety of the nest. Although adult wasps feed mainly on sugary substances, their larvae are fed mainly on dead insects. A successful colony may contain several thousand individuals and, at the height of its development, the nest will have reached the size of a football. At this stage, males and new queens are reared. These young queens, usually having mated in the field with males from other colonies, soon hibernate. As autumn approaches, wasp colonies gradually decline and the ageing workers, males and foundress queens eventually die.


Adult queen 18-20 mm long, black and yellow, with a distinctive narrow 'waist' and a pointed abdomen armed with an unbarbed sting; antennae 12-segmented. (The clypeus of Vespula germanica is yellow, usually marked with three black spots; in V. vulgaris, the black clypeal markings are more extensive and often form a broad, axe-like patch.) Adult worker similar to queen but smaller. Adult male 15-18 mm long, similar in appearance to female (i.e. queen or worker) but abdomen less pointed and without a sting; antennae 13-segmented.


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