In The UK we have over nine thousand species of wasps. Most are microscopic some two hundred or so are solitary wasps, as such we don’t normally recognise them as wasps. However, there are two types of wasps that we are all familiar with Vespula vulgaris (Common wasp) and Vespula germanica (German wasp). This page is dedicated to the Wasp Nest Life Cycle of these two types of wasps.
Firstly let me introduce myself, my name is Paul and I have been dealing with wasp nests for nearly twenty years. I have been stung by wasps more times than I can remember, dealt with more nests than you can shake a stick at. As a result, I have observed them and learned how they interact with the world around them. This page is about my understanding of what happens inside a wasp nest from the birth of the nest to the death of the nest.
The Common or Social wasp (Vespula vulgaris) and the German wasp (Vespula germanica) can be very aggressive and irksome during the summer months. Who hasn’t been to a barbeque and had a wasp pestering them?
Queen wasps awaken from hibernation about the middle of April and set about the task of building their nests. The wasp nest is made from dead wood and wasp saliva which they mash up to make a type of paper mache. She can choose any location from a hole in the ground to under the ridge tile of a building and anywhere in between.
In the springtime she builds a nest about the size of a golf ball and in here she will build cells and lay about a dozen eggs which she tends and feeds. The eggs take about two weeks to develop into the wasps we are familiar with. The length of time it takes for a wasp to develop is dependant on the amount of food the Queen wasp is able to find. When the workers emerge they take over the expansion of the nest and the feeding of the young leaving the Queen to her only task of laying eggs.
As more workers hatch the nest can quickly grow doubling in size in a week. As a result, this can bring problems to the householder. The one problem wasps have is they are not very good at choosing nest sites. If you have a wasp nest on your property you may hear a ticking or crackling sound coming from the nest, this is the wasp’s mandibles clicking together as they try to expand their nest. They will be chewing away at the plasterboard usually in a bedroom. I have also seen wasps flying away from the nest with little polystyrene balls which is your cavity wall insulation.
A worker wasp has a proboscis to drink liquid with and they get the liquid they need from wasp larvae. The worker will go out and catch all manner of insects which they take back to the nest to feed the larvae. In return, the larvae exude a sweet sugary liquid called chitin which the wasps now drink. This gives them a sugar hit encouraging them to go and get more insects. As the weeks go by the nest gets bigger and bigger.
They become more noticeable in July as more and more workers hatch. If you have a wasp nest you will be able to see a constant stream of wasps going to and from the nest.
If you find a wasp nest on your property DO NOT approach the nest. Dealing with a wasp nest can be very dangerous! Wasp’s will attack in numbers if they feel the nest is threatened. The aggressiveness of a wasp nest is determined by the queen? If the nest is very aggressive as you approach the nest returning wasps will fly towards you instead of going in the nest. A wasp sting is very painful and could lead to Anaphylactic Shock and in rare cases death.
In the meantime, the nest continues to grow through July and August and at its height can contain 10,000+ wasps. Eventually, in mid-September around 2000 new Queens are produced from the nest. These new Queens now finally leave the nest never to return and prepare for hibernation. The wasp colony structure begins to break down about this time and wasps start to crave their sugar hit. This is because the queen has stopped laying eggs and there are no young to feed. Now wasps start to feed on fermenting fruit (getting drunk?) and start to become a nuisance. They want your sweet sugary drink etc. In October the nest will die off naturally.
You may see wasps just flying around part of your property. They don’t seem to be going anywhere or doing anything. The wasps don’t know where to go. They are unable to find their way back to the nest. Usually, they are young wasps who have left the nest for the first time. Wasps frequently get the right part of the building but the wrong building. Or the right building but the wrong part of the building. With this in mind have a look at a neighbour’s property around the same area. You may be able to see if you can see where the nest actually is.
I have also seen wasps taking larvae out of their own nest (twice in seventeen years). The wasps just abandon the grubs on the ground. I am at a loss to explain this behaviour. All things considered, it could be the lack of food, disease or some other explanation. In conclusion, this behaviour does suggest that wasps are not cannibals.
Similarly wasps will often attack bee hives just to get at the bee larvae.