Wasps are stinging insects of the order Hymenoptera. Many live in large colonies which have a queen, males, and sterile female workers. Such social wasps are hornets.Wasps are called solitary if they do not live in communities, but build small brood nests to hold their young. Social wasps (hornets) make paper nests. One example is white-faced hornets, found all over North America. These wasps, 1.25 inches long and black with white markings, build nests, up to halfbushel size, in tree limbs. Yellow jacket species live in colonies of many thousands, close to or under the ground. Giant European hornets, in the United States since the 1850’s, are brown with yellow streaks and nest in hollow trees. In some wasp species, no workers are born and females lay eggs in the nests of other wasps.Wasp size varies from parasitic wasps, that can develop in insect eggs, to species attaining body lengths of over two inches.
Physical Characteristics of Wasps and Hornets
Wasp bodies, which are covered by coarse hairs, have a head, thorax (midbody), and abdomen (hind body) segments. Thoraxes hold four wings and six legs. The bodies are steel blue, black, yellow, or red, with abdominal rings. Reproductive, digestive, and excretory systems are in abdomen and thorax. Females have stingers at abdomen ends. Parasitic wasps use stingers to insert eggs into hosts. Female nonparasite wasps (which are most wasps) use stingers to paralyze their prey and inject venom. The stings are painful, because the venom contains histamine and a factor that dissolves red blood cells. Wasp stings, especially by hornets, can kill allergic humans. Wasp heads contain sharp, strong mandibles (jaws), designed to chew hard things, tear up food, dig burrows, and pulp wood and earth. Wasp mouths can also lap liquids. Above the mandibles, their heads contain paired, keen, compound eyes and paired sensory antennae. Queen wasps in social species are reproductive females who use sperm obtained in mating flights to fertilize eggs that become females. Unfertilized eggs become drones (males). Production of queens-tobe or female workers depends on diet.
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