Social Wasps - Vespidae

The Social Wasps are a group of closely related and very similar species from the genera Vespula, Dolichovespula, and Polistes (Paper Wasps). The North American name for them is Leatherjackets, the French call them les guêpes. Vespidae also includes Vespa (Hornets) and some solitary wasps but they have separate entries (European Hornet Vespa crabro; Great Potter Wasp Delta unguiculatum).

The Vespid Social Wasps are what everyone thinks of as the classic wasp -- black and yellow and overly persistent at picnics. They live in colonies which are formed each year by the surviving overwintering mated queens. Their nests are constructed of paper which the wasps make by chewing wood fibres. Some species live underground, others in trees or buildings. A few are 'cuckoos', not forming colonies but laying their eggs in other species nests.

Their function in an ecosystem is as refuse collectors. They clean up rotting fruit and the bodies of dead insects. Their nests and larvae provide food and shelter for other wildlife, ranging from Volucella spp hover flies to badgers.

Social insects should always be treated with respect however. If you alarm or hurt one it will emit a signal to its fellows, triggering a defensive reaction that can be frightening and dangerous.

Foraging on a windfall pear in a garden, joined by a Greenbottle Lucilia sp and an ant Formicidae.

Foraging on a windfall pear in a garden, joined by a Greenbottle Lucilia sp.

1 comment:

  1. A valuable friend to the gardener...
    the Vespidae social wasps also eat a vast number of insect pests...
    especially aphids.
    An insect to be positively encouraged...
    not feared and despised.