Story of wasps: their facts and a stolen lunch
One fine summer day at lunch, an uninvited guest paid my lunch mates and me a visit: a yellow jacket.
The yellow jacket is a type of wasp commonly found in North America. The name comes from its yellow markings on a black body. Although this predatory insect mainly feeds on other insects, it’s also attracted to meat, fruits, and sweet drinks – aka picnics.
Wasps might look like bees, but one thing that make them stand out is that they just won’t leave you alone. Tired of shooing and protecting her lunch from unrelenting wasps, one of my lunch mates set up a piece of meat as a bait on the furthest corner of the picnic table. The importunate scavengers took notice of the meat and, to our amusement, started digging in and flying off with a huge chunk.
The nuisance soon turned into a thing of curiosity. Under our scrutiny, one after another the yellow jackets would take position on the meat, chewing off a chunk, and rolling it into a ball bigger than its head, wambling under its weight and almost crashing into us in its unsteady flight.
Here are some interesting things about the yellow jacket:
How is the yellow jacket different from a bee?
The yellow jacket has a slender body with a narrow waist, its skin smooth and shiny. A bee is more round-bodied and hairy, better suited for collecting pollens.
Wasps can sting multiple times, whereas bees can only do this once. This is because a wasp’s stinger is smooth and can be pulled out of the target’s skin for another round of attack. A bee’s stinger is more barbed, so that it remains embedded in the skin of the victim. Both wasps and bees inject venoms into their victims, making the sting very painful. (Interesting fact: male wasps and bees do not have stingers.)
Both the yellow jacket and a honey bee live in large colonies. A honey bee colony can survive for several years (called perennial). During the winter, the bees form a compact cluster to keep the hive from freezing. On the other hand, a wasp colony is only annual, lasting for one year. All members of the colony die off in winter, except the newly born queens.
The wasp colony.
Meet the head of the family: a foundress. A newly born queen leaves her home in late fall, mate with a male (called drone), and tucks herself away during the winter, waiting for a warmer temeprature. Come spring, the new queen, or the foundress, builds a paper-ball-like nest by chewing wood fibers mixed with saliva. She lays eggs using stored sperm, thus starting a new colony.
Fertilized eggs give rise to either the next generation of queens or sterile females, the workers, which would devote their lives foraging for food (like the yellow jacket in the video) or protecting the colony (stingers!). Some eggs are not fertilized; these turn into male drones, their role being the sperm donors for the new queens (yikes!).
Wasps can be annoying when they just won’t leave you alone to enjoy your picnic, but knowing that they live just one year, the workers and drones even less than that, I find myself feeling a bit more sympathetic towards them – as long as they keep their stingers away from me, that is.