10 things you didn't know about wasps

Common wasp by Nick Upton/2020Vision

Wasps are more than just a nuisance at picnics – like bees, they do a lot for humans as pollinators, and also as pest controllers. Here are 10 fascinating facts about wasps!
Oak gall by Vaughn Matthews

Oak gall by Vaughn Matthews

1. There are about 9,000 species of wasp in the UK. Only nine of these form the large, social nests we usually think of – the others are solitary. Many of the 9,000 species are parasites of insects or plants, such as gall wasps which lay eggs on a plant, causing it to form a gall to protect the larva.

2. Wasps aren't all black and yellow. They come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colours, including this sand wasp (below). Some are only 1mm long!

Sand wasp by Margaret Holland

Sand wasp by Margaret Holland

3. Wasps are hugely beneficial to us as pest controllers. They eat many of the common pests that would otherwise plague farmers and gardeners, including aphids and caterpillars. In fact, nearly every pest on Earth is preyed upon by a species of wasp. There is even a species of wasp that preys on clothes moths!

4. They also eat dead invertebrates, and scavenge carcasses. Adult wasps are omnivores, with powerful jaws for digging into animal remains. Worker wasps collect protein-rich foods to feed to the larvae, which in turn secrete sugars and carbohydrates to feed the workers.

Wasp closeup by Macro.Paul

Wasp closeup by Macro.Paul

5. By late August, the wasps have to start hunting for sugary food because there are no longer any larvae in the nest – this is when they start to bother our picnics!

6. Wasps are important pollinators, too. They’re slightly less efficient than bees, as they have fewer fine hairs on their bodies for the pollen to stick to.

7. Some wasps make homes by chewing wood into a pulp. In ancient China people saw wasps doing this and applied the same method to making paper.

Inside a wasps' nest

Inside a wasps' nest

8. Each nest is only used by wasps from spring until the autumn. The workers and normally the queen die. The newly mated queens (at least 1000 per nest) are the only ones that survive the winter, creating a new nest the following year.

9. Once a wasp colony has ended, their nest is often used by other species including hoverflies. The hornet hoverfly actually feeds on debris in an active nest without getting stung!

Common wasp by Nick Upton/2020Vision

Common wasp by Nick Upton/2020Vision

10. Only the females are able to sting. They only do so in self defence!

Learn more about three unusual types of wasp

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