Social Wasps

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A photograph of a social wasp.

Social wasps are much maligned but they are important predators of insect pests.
Photograph by Richard Bartz licensed under Creative Commons.

The family Vespidae contains the wonderful large Hornet Vespa crabro. Hornets are best left undisturbed, although they are not as aggressive as some of the other social wasps.

Vespids usually make nests out of papery wood pulp collected from plant fibres - they can often be seen collecting the wood fibres by chewing fence posts. The queens emerge from hibernation in spring and seek out appropriate sites for nest construction. These could be hollow trees, underground in abandoned rodent burrows or suspended in trees or bushes - they are quite commonly found in sheds.

Every year local councils are requested to kill nests that people find in their garden, such is the human dislike towards them. However, they are a gardener's best friend as they seek out pest species to feed the young (although not always the case they do take the occasional honey bee). They work very hard, it can be interesting to watch them from a safe distance and learn to appreciate and respect them.

A mature colony may have 6,000 workers and contain 1,400 cells. There are in fact several different species of social wasp in Britain. Why not see if you can tell them apart using one of the guides in the bibliography.

Other members of the Vespoidea superfamily

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