Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumArthropoda
ClassInsecta
OrderHymenoptera
FamilyVespidae
GenusVespula (1)
SizeAverage length: 2 cm (2)

The common wasp is common and widespread (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).

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).

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

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).

The common wasp is not threatened.

No conservation plans are required for the common wasp.

Learn more about the common wasp:

For more on invertebrates:

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

  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