Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris)

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Common wasp dusted with pollen, feeding on ivy flowers
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Common wasp fact file

Common wasp description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderHymenoptera
FamilyVespidae
GenusVespula (1)

The common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) is a familiar and much feared social insect (3). They are quite large insects, with an obvious 'waist' between the thorax and abdomen. They have bright yellow and black bands along the body, two pairs of wings and fairly long, robust antennae. The sting is located at the tip of the abdomen (4). The queens (reproductive females) are larger than workers (non-reproductive females) (2).

Size
Average length: 2 cm (2)
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Common wasp biology

The common wasp usually forms large colonies below ground, but occasionally nests may be made in wall cavities, hollow trees and attics (1). Queens emerge from hibernation during the spring, and they search for a suitable location in which to start a new colony. She then begins to build the nest with chewed up wood pulp, which dries to make a papery substance. A few eggs are laid, which develop into non-reproductive workers. These workers eventually take over the care of the nest, and the queen's life is then devoted solely to egg laying (4). At the end of autumn a number of eggs develop into new queens and males, which leave the nest and mate. The new queens seek out suitable places in which to hibernate, and the males and the old colony (including the old queen) die (4).

The developing larvae are fed on insects which the workers bring back to the nest. Few people are aware of the role the common wasp plays in keeping the populations of many insect pests under control. The adults require high-energy sugary foods such as nectar and fruit; they also feed on a sugary substance exuded by the larvae (4). The main reason that wasps are so feared is their sting, which can be quite painful, and can be used more than once, unlike those of bees. The sting has evolved from a modified ovipositor, a structure used in egg-laying, and so only workers (which are all females) are able to sting (4).

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Common wasp range

Widespread and common throughout Britain (1), the common wasp has been introduced to many areas outside of its natural range, and is a serious pest in Australia and New Zealand (5).

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Common wasp habitat

The common wasp is found in a wide range of habitats and is common in gardens, woodlands and meadows (6).

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Common wasp status

The common wasp is common and widespread (1).

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Common wasp threats

The common wasp is not threatened.

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Common wasp conservation

No conservation plans are required for the common wasp.

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Find out more

Learn more about the common wasp:

For more on invertebrates:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Abdomen
In arthropods (crustaceans, insects and arachnids) the abdomen is the hind region of the body, which is usually segmented to a degree. In crustacea (e.g. crabs) the limbs attach to the abdomen; in insects the limbs are attached to the thorax (the part of the body nearest to the head) and not the abdomen. In vertebrates the abdomen is the part of the body that contains the internal organs (except the heart and lungs).
Antennae
Pair of sensory structures on the head of invertebrates.
Hibernation
A winter survival strategy characteristic of some mammals in which an animal's metabolic rate slows down and a state of deep sleep is attained. Whilst hibernating, animals survive on stored reserves of fat that they have accumulated in summer. In insects, the correct term for hibernation is 'diapause', a temporary pause in development and growth. Any stage of the lifecycle (eggs, larvae, pupae or adults) may enter diapause, which is typically associated with winter.
Larvae
Stage in an animal's lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
Ovipositor
Egg-laying organ in female insects consisting of outgrowths of the abdomen (the hind region of the body in insects). The stinging organ and poison sac of worker bees and non-reproductive female wasps is a modified ovipositor.
Thorax
Part of the body located near the head in animals. In insects, the three segments between the head and the abdomen, each of which has a pair of legs.
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References

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (March 2003):
    http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nbn/
  2. UK Safari (March 2003):
    http://www.uksafari.com/wasps.htm
  3. Buczacki, S. (2002) Fauna Britannica. Hamlyn, London.
  4. Common wasp (March 2003):
    http://www.keele.ac.uk/university/arboretum/articles/wasps.htm
  5. Matthews, R. W., Goodisman, M.A.D., Austin, A.D. & Bashford, R. (2000) The introduced English wasp Vespula vulgaris (L.) (Hymenoptera: Vespidae) newly recorded invading native forests in Tasmania. Australian Journal of Entomology39: 177-179.
  6. BBC Wildfacts: common wasp (March 2003):
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/wildfacts/factfiles/427.shtml
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Image credit

Common wasp dusted with pollen, feeding on ivy flowers  
Common wasp dusted with pollen, feeding on ivy flowers

© Nick Upton / naturepl.com

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