German Wasp

Social and Common Wasps

  • wasp-habitat  Habitat:  Wide variety of habitats
  • wasp-range  Range:  Worldwide
  • wasp-size  Size:  4 - 36mm (1 1/4 inch)
  • wasp-species  Species:  4,000
  • wasp-family  Family:  Vespidae

These are the most common wasps, familiar to all. There are a sophisticated family of wasps living in hives and working together to maintain or grow their colony.

This family includes a large variety of wasps including the Yellow-Jacket wasp, the Paper wasp and the German wasp which are frequently seen in our back gardens around spring and summer. One noticeable feature about the Social wasp is the that they fold their wings in a different way when they are at rest. Most wasps fold their wings flat against their body overlaying each other on top of their back. This is how most insects lay their wings at rest. The Social wasp however folds its wings sideways against the edge of its body. Many are black with yellow markings but some are orange with darker margins like the Vespa crabro, also known as a hornet. The social wasps are classed under a family called Vespidae also known as 'true wasps'.

yellow-jacket-wasp Paper and Yellow-Jacket Wasps
The Paper wasp and the Yellow-Jacket wasp create their nests out of chewed fibres. These nests tend to hang from trees quite far from the ground which gives the wasp colony good protection. The Paper and Yellow-Jacket wasps have one queen in their hive and many workers. A typical queen over-winters, making a nest in spring and rears the first of its young herself. The nests consist of many six-sided cells stack next to each other. The cells are just the right size for one larva to live in. The larvae are fed on by other dead insect that the female workers hunt. The dead insect is chewed up by the females and then given to the larvae for easy digestion. The nests tend to start small but as the colony grows so to does the nest. The colony usually produce somewhere around 20,000 wasps throughout the summer.

One common species frequently spotted is the Vespula vulgaris that has a black body with four yellow markings and a black and yellow head. The abdomen is stripped in black and yellow. The Vespula vulgaris tends to hunt caterpillars to feed to its young. It also makes its nests from chewed wood fibres.

The hornet is the most docile of all the wasps. It is found only in well-timbered districts where it nests on hollow trees or in banks or have nests hanging in rafters of outhouses. It is famous for its huge size. The smallest worker of the hornet is larger than the queen of the Common wasp. Hornets live a similar life style to Yellow-Jackets and Paper wasps.

Other Common Wasps
Not all social wasps have just one queen. The Vespula germanica, the German wasp lives in warmer parts of the world and lives in colonies of multiple queens. The German wasp and the Red wasp build their nests underground using old mouse holes or some similar whole in the ground. The tree wasp and the Norwegian wasp have nests that hang from trees.


The larvae of the social wasp have fat bodies with the widest part on third from the head. Their heads are small and brown. Larvae are fed on other dead insects.

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