In Canada, there are over 15 species of social wasps displaying black, yellow, white or brown coloration. Wasps are not as hairy as bumble bees and domestic bees, their hairs do not branch out, and they do not have pollen baskets on their feet. There are also several species of solitary wasps with various coloring (blue, black, red, etc.).
Unlike solitary wasps who share their nest with their offspring, social wasps live in organized societies. In spring, the young queens – who are larger than the other adults that will follow – feed on nectar, and each one searches for a place to establish a colony. Some species nest in the ground, others construct overhead nests or take advantage of structures such as the inside of walls and attic spaces. The queen produces a little paper nest by removing plant fibers (from a fence, a tree or a plant) that she then chews and mixes with her saliva. The nest has an initial dome consisting of several cells, each of which will accommodate one egg. After laying an egg that will become a female (worker), the queen adds a bit of male semen that she has been keeping inside her body since fall. Only the queen can feed the first larvae that are attached vertically, head downwards.
Still housed in their respective cells, the larvae wrap themselves in a silk cocoon and transform first into pre-nymphs and then into nymphs. When they become adults, they take over caring for the larvae and search for spiders, flies, caterpillars or other insects (or bits of carrion) which they will chew and feed to the larvae as pap. In return, the larvae offer the adults a sweet substance. The workers will also look for fibers, enlarge the nest (and add other domes to it), and cool it by bringing water and beating their wings. The queen can then dedicate herself exclusively to egg laying, making the colony increasingly imposing.
In late summer, there are hundreds or even thousands of wasps living in a single nest. Males (from eggs to which no male semen was added) and future queens are raised at that time. Workers feed them to the detriment of the rest of the colony. These reproductive individuals will mate outside, with other individuals from another wasp nest, during a nuptial flight. The young fertilized queens will find shelter under a piece of bark, in a crack, in an abandoned rodent burrow, or occasionally in a shed. Only a few survive the winter. In Quebec, it is a sure thing that the remainder of the colony will die with the fall frosts.
In other social wasps (polistes or paper wasps), several queens cohabitate in the spring, but one of them will become dominant.
Places where they can be found in the home
Some species usually attach their nests under the eaves, while others prefer the outer edge of windows. Wasps can come into the house accidentally through a partially open window or door and not be able to find their way out again. If a queen gets into the house, she may build her nest in the attic. Sometimes, when they take advantage of an opening in a wall to build their nest and the colony expands, they find themselves cramped for space. Wasps can then use their mouth to drill a hole to enter the house. They can also be seen around our food containing protein or sugar.
- Install screens on all windows and plug up any holes they could use to enter the house.
- It is better to use trash cans with covers and keep them away from those that do not have any.
- Inspect your trees and take care of any problems with aphids or other insects that produce honeydew, a sweet substance that attracts wasps.
- Since nests are often detected in late summer when they are larger, it would be best to get in the habit of inspecting the area around the house sooner.
To avoid being stung:
When you come across a wasp, MOVE SLOWLY and do not make any sudden movements.
Avoid having wasps mistake you for a flower: do not use highly scented products such as tanning lotions or hair sprays.
Since the workers feed mainly on fruit juice as well as sweet substances, cover your drinks and use a straw when you are outdoors. Also cover your food and keep an eye on the sandwich you are eating during your picnics since the meat will be carried back to the larvae. Pet food should also be watched.
On a forest outing (although wasps are also found in farms and cities), it would be best to wear shoes. Stick to the paths and check to see if there are any nests along your path – either a paper nest on a tree branch or a swarm of wasps around the entrance to an underground nest. If you spot a nest, do not approach it. White, green, tan or khaki colored clothing attracts fewer wasps than bright colors and patterns. It is better to keep your arms and legs covered and wear your hair up to prevent wasps from getting caught in it.
Wasps attack our ripe fruit and some damage plants and trees from which they extract sap. However, they render invaluable services to us by controlling fly and caterpillar populations that cause damage in our garden or pester us. They also pollinate flowers (especially those with well exposed nectaries [nectar-producing organs]). They also contribute to recycling organic material by breaking down the plant or animal material into small particles. Since it is a know fact that their populations are in decline throughout the world because of habitat destruction and pollution growth, we should not be compulsive about eliminating all nests. Wasps only sting when they feel threatened or want to defend their colony. People allergic to their venom should avoid being around them as much as possible (and should carry their unexpired, self-injectable syringe with them). In addition, it is preferable not to tolerate a nest close to the house that might interfere with daily activities.
It is easier to destroy a nest in spring since there are fewer wasps in it at that time. Although experts manage to destroy wasp nests in the daytime, it is safer to do so on a cool or cloudy night (unfavorable flying conditions) by covering your head with a net that cannot touch your cheeks, and ensuring that no wasp can get into your thick clothing through sleeve and ankle openings. There will also be more wasps inside the nest at night. But even with the best intentions, it sometimes happens that instead of removing a hard-to-reach nest, the person who thought he could destroy it end up cutting it in half. The wasps then become aggressive and can swirl around the house for days! TRYING TO DESTROY A WASP NEST IS UNDOUBTEDLY THE BEST WAY TO GET STUNG. A parasite management specialist has some products that can be applied through the nest opening to kill the wasps. When the nest is inside a wall, the specialist will try to determine its location so that it can be accessed more easily.
The outdoor entrance to a nest located indoors should never be plugged before the wasps are really dead because they might very well open up a new path into the house.
There are some traps containing baits used to catch wasps. Some people claim that these traps can capture several individuals and are somewhat effective if used in large numbers. However, there effectiveness is debatable since they can also attract wasps. Furthermore, since the workers remain trapped, they cannot bring the rest of the colony along. In addition, the baits are not all that attractive to some wasps when they can find fresh prey. Traps with bait to which pheromones (olfactory substances) have been added have also been tested, and it has been suggested that these traps should be placed far enough in advance so that the wasps get in the habit of including these sites in their food-seeking route.
Automobile accidents sometimes happen because of fear of wasps. If a wasp (or bee) gets into your car, there is a good chance that it will cling to the window rather than try to fly around in a moving automobile. Remember that these insects feel less threatened when you do not move abruptly. Therefore, avoid making any wide arm motions in an attempt to chase them. It would be safer to park your car and simply lower the window to allow the wasp to fly outside. Also keep in mind that a wasp will always attempt to fly upward when trapped in a container, so if you manage to get one into a jar or cap, it is better not to put your face over the opening. Turn the jar over instead and slip a piece of cardboard underneath.
Unlike domestic bees that die once they have stung, wasps can sting more than once. They can also leave behind a pheromone or substance that will incite other wasps to sting in the same spot.
It is not true that remaining motionless is a good idea if you come across a wasp. If there is a nest involved, above all, do not stay there!
Although paper wasps (polistes) make small nests with no exterior covering, they do not live in the large, spherical overhead paper nests; the latter are constructed by wasps of the genus Dolichovespula.
“No, there are not more wasps this year compared to last year!” This statement reappears every August in the media. It is absolutely normal to see more of them at that time since they are particularly numerous during that period of the year. Naturally, spring weather conditions can promote the establishment of new colonies, but the fact that some wasps are nesting close to us one year and, consequently we see more of them, does not necessarily mean they are more numerous than the year before.
Not all striped insects sting. People have trouble distinguishing social and solitary wasps from domestic and solitary bees. However, it is important to protect the inoffensive insects that pollinate our flowers. Syrphidae are flies with striped bodies that can also deceive us. By looking closely, we can see that these insects have short unbent antennae and are able to hover in place. They only have two wings while bees and wasps have four. Imitating the color patterns of stinging insects is undoubtedly an effective strategy, since even mammals that cannot see colors too well quickly recognize the contrasting stripes.