The Life Cycle of a Wasp/Yellowjacket

The inner workings of a social wasp nest consist of a highly organized unit of wasps.  The queen is at the top of the chain of command.  Her role is to establish a nest in early spring.  At first, she will have to do all the work herself, which consists of nest building, food gathering, and offspring production and care.  Before winter sets in each year queens mate, then overwinter (similar to hibernation) in attics and other sheltered places until spring.  After she builds her new nest, she lays her first batch of eggs that will hatch into infertile female workers and a few males. The sterile female workers take over many of her responsibilities as they mature.  They expand the nest, care for brood and gather food.  The males mate with the queen so that she can continue to increase the size of her colony.  All members of the nest understand their role and work diligently to fulfill their task oriented positions.

Late in the season, female reproductives will be produced.  Differences between these and the infertile females produced earlier are few.  The reproductives have increased levels of fats, believed to help them survive the upcoming winter.  But physiological differences do not seem to explain why these females will produce offspring while the earlier female offspring will not.  Some studies seem to indicate that the queen, through her behavior, suppresses reproductive development in subordinate offspring.  When the summer comes to an end, the queen allows reproductive females to develop.

Before winter, fertile females mate with the colony males.  As winter weather moves in, these fertilized females leave the nest, looking for shelter in places like woodpiles, sheds, garages and attics, basically anywhere they can avoid freezing temperatures, wet rains and blowing winds.  They remain largely inactive relying mostly on stored energy to live through the winter.  In the spring they begin foraging and looking for a place to build a nest.

The paper wasp is not very interested in human activities because they feed on other insects.  Human – wasp interactions occur mostly at water sources where wasps collect water needed to build their nests.  Swimming pools, leaky drinking fountains, ornamental ponds, birds baths, pet water bowls and many other similar water sources can be a common meeting place.  As wasps often build their nests in man-made structures, wasps can be encountered when people accidentally find a nest they did not know was there.  The presence of a potentially dangerous nest of wasps can usually be discovered by noticing them flying to and from their nest.

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