Social wasps are insects whose size is marked by a constriction between the thorax and abdomen. Workers have a sting at the end of their abdomen .
There are two subfamilies of social wasps in Quebec. Vespines, or true wasps, are black with yellow or yellowish-white markings on the abdomen, face, or thorax. Polistines are brown and have long legs.
The colony is founded by a queen who was impregnated the previous year and spent the winter in the shelter. She begins building the nest and takes care of the first larvae from her eggs. These, having become adults, constitute the first generation of workers. They continue to build the nest and take care of the queen and the new larvae.
Social wasps establish their colony in paper nests or underground nests, some of which can house thousands of individuals. The nests are also called bee-eaters.
At the end of summer, male individuals are produced. They mate with future queens to ensure the formation of new colonies the following year. In our climates, only fertilized queens survive the winter. Workers and males die with the onset of cold.
What you need to know
Worker wasps feed the larvae with various chewed insects and other sources of animal protein. They themselves eat sugary substances. When they come to rest on our food, they are in search of one or the other of these foods.
Equipped with a sting, wasps sting to defend themselves or to defend the colony. The venom injected during the bite also serves to paralyze their prey, which can thus be kept alive in the nests.
In our latitudes, the nests of paper wasps are not reused and workers build new ones every year. There are two types of paper nests. Those of the wasps of the vespine subfamily are covered with paper and have an opening at the base. They can be very big. These bee-eaters have several rows of cells where the larvae develop. They are often seen hanging from houses, but they can also be hidden in trees.
The nests built by the wasps of the polistine subfamily (the polistines) are open, revealing the cells, and are always suspended at the end of a small rod. Smaller in size, they have only one row of cells, all open at the bottom.
The paper used for the preparation of the nests is made of a paste made up of vegetable fibers mixed with the saliva of the wasps. Its color varies depending on the source of the fibers: wood, bark, stems, cardboard, etc. Different species of wasps may have preferences regarding the fibers used.
It was by observing the behavior of wasps that the French naturalist Réaumur had the idea, in 1720, to use wood fibers to make paper. At that time, Europeans made their paper with rags. A hundred years later, wood-based paper made its appearance.
Workers are predators of other insects.