Latin name: Vespula vulgaris
Notable feature: Striking black and yellow warning stripes
Conservation Status: Least Concern
Where in the UK: Throughout the UK
Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris)
There are approximately 9,000 species of wasp in the UK. These include the parasitic wasps, some of which are so tiny, they can barely be seen without a micropscope. 250 of these are the larger wasps which have a stinger. Only nine of these are social wasps which form large nests. The majority of wasps are solitary and cause no upset to humans.
The Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) is found throughout the UK in almost all habitats, including woodland and urban areas. They are nicknamed jaspers in the Midlands, deriving possibly from the Latin for wasp, vespa, or from the similarity in looks to the striped mineral jasper.
As the commonest UK wasp they are easily identified by most people. Adult workers (always females) measure 12-17mm whereas the queen is around 20mm. Iconic black and yellow stripes give a clear warning to other animals that these insects are dangerous. With the abdomen split into six segments, one black/yellow stripe on each, the Common Wasp is very similar to the German Wasp (Vespula germanica). The key difference is that Common Wasps lack the three black dots on the head and distinct black dots on the back as they merge with the back stripes.
- Size: Workers measure 12-17mm in length, queens are larger measuring around 20mm in length
- Life span: Annual life cycle; most wasps will only live for a few weeks but the mated Queen will hibernate underground to lay her eggs in summer so may survive for up to a year. Colonies only last one year and once the new queens departs all the other wasps in the colony die.
- Diet: Adults predominately feed on nectar, but also look for sugars and carbohydrate food sources (i.e. honeydew, jam, crisps) whilst larvae are fed on proteins (i.e. other insects and invertebrates) collected by the adults
- Reproduction: A queen will begin by building a cylindrical column known as a petiole which is covered by a chemical produced by the queen which repels ants. When she’s finished, she produces a single cell and surrounds it with a further six cells, giving the cells their characteristic hexagonal shape. She continues building cells in a layer until she has 20-30 then lays an egg in each. Once the eggs have hatched she divides her time between feeding the larvae and nest building. At full size larvae spin a cover over their cell until they have developed into adult workers. These are the smaller wasps, seen later in the summer, who are gathering proteins to feed the larvae and sugars to feed themselves. It’s this need for sugar that attracts them to your jam sandwiches or fizzy drinks. With enough adults fully grown the queen can focus on reproduction and is then fed by the workers in the nest. Each nest may contain 5,000-10,000 individuals and is spherical in shape.
- When to see: April to October. In late spring, large wasps can be seen. These are queens who are looking for suitable nest sites. Towards the end of September the nests are at maximum capacity, with lots of adults and few larvae. This means that there will be lots of wasps visible. New queens and male drones emerge from the nest. Each colony contains only one queen and after mating in late autumn the new queens overwinter in holes or other sheltered locations.
- Population Trend: Stable
- Threats: Loss of habitat and food sources for larvae. Conflict with humans, agricultural intensification including pesticide use.
- Fun Fact: Wasps have a sting to allow them to capture and immobilise their prey (such as aphids, caterpillars, flies and spiders). They may also sting to defend their nest.
- Bonus Fun Fact: Suitable locations for nest building include deserted mammal holes, cracks in walls or holes in trees. Wasps nests are made from chewed up wood and wasp saliva which creates a paper-like material.
What do wasps do?
An incredibly popular question, often an exclamation, but one which has a number of surprising answers for many. Wasps are hugely important for a variety of reasons, including:
- Wasps eat flies, aphids, caterpillars and other invertebrates, making them an important insect-controlling predator.
- Wasps are amazing architects, building hexagonal paper nests from chewed up wood.
- Wasps are important pollinators.
- Wasp nests provide a home for some of our most beautiful, pollinating hoverflies.
How you can help:
Buglife is working to increase awareness of invertebrates and the Common Wasp through specific projects, including B-Lines but we need your help, especially with species that have a bad reputation and are seen as pointless pests.
Try and see the beauty in these fantastic and ferocious creatures, and remember that they only live a short time. If they have encroached on “your space”, it will be a short-lived inconvenience.
Join a recording scheme and log your finds – send any records/sightings to BWARS or download the iRecord app and get recording!
Do remember that we rely on donations to continue our work. If you have searched, found and learnt about our incredible invertebrates on our website, please do consider Making a Donation, Becoming a Member or maybe even making a purchase in our shop. For more ideas on how to support our work find out how to Get Involved. Thank you 🕷