Wasps are slender yellow-black insects that are common in the Netherlands in summer. Wasps are generally not well known because they often build their nests close to people. They can also sting people painfully if they feel threatened. However, they are also useful animals because they eat flies and mosquitoes.
Species of wasps
Wasps belong to the family of wasps. Within the family of wasps, ten families are distinguished with 24,000 species. The most common species of wasps in the Netherlands belong to the paper wasp family, including the hornbeam, German wasp and common wasp. The German wasp and common wasp are also known as lemonade wasps.
Hornet are large wasps that can grow up to 3.5 centimetres long. Hearers are less aggressive than other wasp species. The hearer can be distinguished by the fact that they have a larger head compared to other wasps. Their orange to red colour also makes them easily recognisable as a hornet string.
The German wasp can be distinguished from other wasps by a yellow head with black spots on the front, but these spots are sometimes missing. The German wasp can also be distinguished from the common wasp by black spots on the abdomen.
Habitat of a wasp
Wasps are found all over the world, but are particularly common in the northern hemisphere in Europe, North America and some parts of Asia. Wasps live near their nests, which are made in sheltered places such as underground, under gutters or in attics. They are also often found near fruit trees, food and bins.
Wasps in the Netherlands
The common wasp is most common in the Netherlands. Other species that occur are the German wasp and hornet described above. Other species that occur are for example the blockhead wasp and the field wasp.
Outer characteristics of a wasp
Wasps can be recognised by their slender yellow with black body, sting and wasp waist. Usually they have little or no hair. The size can vary per species and individual. Workers (females) and intestines (males) are usually 1-1,5 cm and the queens are about 2 cm taller.
Wasps have two large, elongated facet eyes on the side of their heads. At the top of the head there are three apex eyes (the ocelli). The head also has two sideways moving jaws with underneath mouthparts. With these they can lick and suck. Between the eyes there are two thick black feelers.
The wasp waist makes the abdomen very flexible. At the abdomen of the wasps there is a sting with which female wasps can be stung. In males the sting is missing, so males can’t sting either. The sting contains no barbs so a wasp can sting again several times.
Insects that are often confused with wasps are bees and bumblebees. Wasps can be distinguished from bees and bumblebees by their lack of hair. Bees and bumblebees can also be distinguished from wasps because they are both less aggressive than wasps. Wasps are also usually slightly smaller than bees and bumblebees.
Wasps are social insects that live in a colony of a few hundred to a thousand wasps. They live in wasp nests that are made by the wasp queen from a porridge consisting of wood fibres from, for example, fences and tree bark and saliva. These nests can be recognised by a striped pattern and are about 20 to 30 centimetres in size. In winter all wasps die, except the queens, who hibernate.
What does a wasp eat?
Wasps search for food within a radius of a few hundred metres to 1 kilometre around their nest. Wasps feed on protein-rich insects such as flies, bees and caterpillars. They also like anything sweet like lemonade, syrup, jam, fruit, nectar and even beer. The workers feed on drops of sweetener excreted by the larvae.
Enemies of the wasp
Production and Lifespan
Wasp reproduction begins with the queen laying eggs in hexagonal brood cells in the wasp’s nest around the end of April. She covers these cells and when the eggs hatch after 7-10 days the larvae are fed with pieces of insects. After 1-2 weeks the larvae pupate and hatch after another 1-2 weeks. The total process from egg to adult wasp takes 3 to 5 weeks.
The workers take over the queen’s tasks, except laying eggs, which the queen continues to do. As the colony grows, the nest expands. It is only later in the season, around August and September, that intestines (males) and new queens emerge from the eggs. As soon as there is a night frost all wasps die. Only the new queens survive and hibernate, to start a new wasp nest in spring.
Nuisance & diseases
Wasps cause particular nuisance by stabbing and building their nests in and around houses. They come for sweets and quickly feel threatened so they can stabbing. A wasp sting usually causes a painful, itchy swelling. How you react to it varies from person to person. For some wasp stings only cause local itching and pain, for others it causes a severe allergic reaction with symptoms such as nausea and rash all over the body. If a wasp stings the tongue or throat it can even block the respiratory tract.
The nests also cause nuisance as this can lead to damage to buildings and insulation material. Nests near places where many people live make the wasps more likely to come into contact with people, which increases the risk of wasp stings.