0. Good resource on wasp:

1. src

Wasp colonies have a distinct caste system. It includes:
1. Queens- fertile females which lay eggs,
2. Drones- fertile males which mate with the future queens (by the way, the males do not have stingers and they are born from unfertilized eggs),
3. Workers- infertile females which do the labor of the nest and defend the colony with their stings.

I got this wonderful illustration from a book (NOTE: the name "Vespula maculata" has been revised to "Dolichovespula maculata").

In the United States, social wasps abandon their nests and die in the late fall or early winter when freezing temperatures have set in. Only the young daughter queens which are born (and have mated with the drones) during the present season will hibernate (in attics, basements, tree trunks, etc.) and live through the winter. The queens will begin their new nests in the spring. Old nests are almost never reused. Though there have been unusual cases when yellowjacket colonies have survived mild winters and they reused the same nests year after year. As a result, the colonies and their nests reached tremendous proportions.

2.  src
Eusocial behavior among wasps is found only in certain members of the family Vespidae.  These insects are commonly called paper wasps, hornets, and yellowjackets.  They build communal nests by mixing wood fibers with saliva to form a paper-like material that can be molded into brood cells and other nest components.  The brood comb (cells where larvae are reared) is always constructed like an inverted umbrella with open ends of the hexagonal cells facing downward.  Workers usually cling to the underside of the comb as they guard the nest, feed the larvae, and perform other housekeeping chores.  All social wasps are carnivores; their prey consists mostly of caterpillars and flies.  The wasps chew up their victims' bodies into a paste that can be fed to their larvae and, in return, the larvae produce a nutritional syrup that is consumed by the adults.  A small colony of 200 yellowjackets may kill and eat about 5000 caterpillars over the course of a summer.

 There are about 20 species of social wasps in North America and more than 700 species world-wide. 

The caste structure of the wasp's social system appears to be maintained primarily through aggressive interactions among the colony members.  If a queen fails to sustain her dominant role, she will be replaced by another fertile female who assumes primary responsibility for egg production.  Males develop only from unfertilized eggs (usually laid by unmated workers).

3. wiki
The nests of some social wasps, such as hornets, are first constructed by the queen and reach about the size of a walnut before sterile female workers take over construction. 
Social wasp colonies often have populations of between three and ten thousand female workers at maturity, although a small proportion of nests are seen on a regular basis that are over three feet across and potentially contain upwards of twenty thousand workers and at least one queen. What has also been seen are nests close to one another at the beginning of the year growing quickly and merging with one another to create nests with tens of thousands of workers.

reproductive cycle of eusocial wasps (temperate species only)

At a certain time of the year (often around autumn), the bulk of the wasp colony dies away, leaving only the young mated queens alive. During this time they leave the nest and find a suitable area to hibernate for the winter. 

First stage

After emerging from hibernation during early summer, the young queens search for a suitable nesting site. Upon finding an area for their colony, the queen constructs a basic wood fiber nest roughly the size of a walnut into which she will begin to lay eggs.

Second stage

Paper wasp (Ropalidia) colony with eggs

The sperm that was stored earlier and kept dormant over winter is now used to fertilize the eggs being laid.  A single queen is capable of building an entire colony by herself. The queen initially raises the first several sets of wasp eggs until enough sterile female workers exist to maintain the offspring without her assistance. All of the eggs produced at this time are sterile female workers who will begin to construct a more elaborate nest around their queen as they grow in number.

Third stage

By this time the nest size has expanded considerably and now numbers between several hundred and several thousand wasps. Towards the end of the summer, the queen begins to run out of stored sperm to fertilize more eggs. These eggs develop into fertilemales and fertile female queens. The male drones then fly out of the nest and find a mate thus perpetuating the wasp reproductive cycle. In most species of social wasp the young queens mate in the vicinity of their home nest and do not travel like their male counterparts do. The young queens will then leave the colony to hibernate for the winter once the other worker wasps and founder queen have started to die off. After successfully mating with a young queen, the male drones die off as well. Generally, young queens and drones from the same nest do not mate with each other; this ensures more genetic variation within wasp populations, especially considering that all members of the colony are theoretically the direct genetic descendants of the founder queen and a single male drone. 

Unlike honey bee queens, wasp queens typically live for only one year. Also queen wasps do not organize their colony or have any raised status and hierarchical power within the social structure. They are more simply the reproductive element of the colony and the initial builder of the nest in those species which construct nests.

Subsocial Wasps:

Subsocial behavior is "postovipositional (after egg laying) parental care that promotes
survival, growth and development of the offspring" (Tallamy & Wood 1986).
Subsocial behavior can take the form of egg or nymphal and larval guarding, the
construction of simple or elaborate nests, and provisioning of offspring with food collected
by the parent.

Orders that include subsocial species of wasps:

1. Pompilidae (spider wasps)
2. Sphecidae (sand wasps)
3. Eumenidae (potter wasps)


Parasocial Wasps: Temporary quasi-sociality is also known in a few species of polistine wasps with age polyethism.  Young females begin their adult lives as foragers and assist with nest provisioning.  Later on, these individuals become egg layers in the common nest site.  And the seasonal semisocial behavior occur in some Polistes wasps.  Variation in ovary maturation in spring Polistes wasp populations suggests that semisocial condition can arise spontaneously within a mixed assemblage of reproductives of different stages of maturity.   (Encyclopedia of insects  By Vincent H. Resh, Ring T. Cardé


Cuckoo Wasps
Cuckoo Wasp (Chrysididae: Hedychrum) at Weevil Wasp Burrow   mirror video
This Cuckoo Wasp investigates the already occupied burrow of a Weevil Wasp (Crabronidae: Cerceris halone). Photographed at Turtle River State Park, North Dakota (30 June 2010)."

Great Black Wasp

Sphex pensylvanicus is a species of digger wasp, commonly known as the great black wasp.[2] It lives across most of North America and grows to a size of 20–35 mm (0.8–1.4 in). The larvae feed on living insects which the females paralyze and carry to the underground nest.


S. pensylvanicus is distributed across the Continental United States, except in the north-west, and also occurs in northern Mexico.[2] The northernmost localities in which it has been reported are Durham, New Hampshire, Malden, Massachusetts and Amherst, Massachusetts, as well as locations in the states of New York, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota.[1]


Sphex pensylvanicus is a large, black wasp, significantly larger than its congener Sphex ichneumoneus (the great golden digger wasp).[3] Males are smaller than females, at only 19–28 mm (0.7–1.1 in) long, to females 25–34 mm (1.0–1.3 in).[1] According to John Bartram, "The Sting of this Wasp is painful, but does not swell like others".[4] As well as being larger than S. ichneumoneus, it is also darker, with smoky wings and an entirely black body, where S. ichneumoneus has yellow wings, red legs, and a partly red abdomen.[5]

COMMON  WASP  (Vespula vulgaris L)Common Wasp

Common Wasps are social insects with new nests constructed each year. Hibernating queens emerge around mid-April and search for a site for her new colony. By late summer nests may contain between 3,000 & 5,000 individuals. During the latter part of summer, males and young queens emerge.  The cold winter weather kills off all the workers and males, with only fertilized queens surviving individually in hibernation, to start new colonies the following spring.  

Paper Wasps


Hornets [1][2][3] Solitary Wasps
Size, Color 3/4 to 1 inch long and generally reddish-orange to dark brown. They often have yellow body markings. 
Unlike yellowjackets and hornets, the paper wasp queen is not much larger than the worker wasps.
Common Wasp
German Wasp (Vespula germanica) 
Baldfaced hornet has no yellow.  Black with white face.
Yellowjackets are generally smaller than hornets and are bright yellow and black, whereas hornets may often be black and white. But some like Oriental Hornet is red with a yellow stripe in its abodman.
European Hornet (Vespa crabro) is red and yellow
Cicada Killers
Cricket Hunter Wasps
Mud Daubers
Sand Wasps
Soicality Paper wasps have three castes — infertile female workers, which make up most of the wasps on nests during the summer; males; and queens. Males and new queens are produced primarily in late summer and fall.      
Nest Paper wasps build their nests from chewed wood fibers. The comb, which hangs from a single filament, is usually oriented downward and consists of a single tier of hexagonal-shaped cells. Nests are most frequently seen under the eaves of houses but may also be found in attics, garages, storage sheds, barns, on shrubbery, trees and a variety of protected sites. The typical mature paper wasp nest contains 20 to 30 adults and rarely more than 200 cells. Unlike paper wasp nests, they are completely enclosed in an envelope except for the entrance hole. In Texas, southern yellowjacket nest size may vary from a few inches to 6 feet or larger, and nests may contain up to 45 levels of combs and 20,000 adult workers. Yellowjackets are primarily ground nesters, but they also construct aerial nests.
Subterranean nests may be found in gardens, flower beds, pastures, roadside embankments and elsewhere. Aerial nests are typically constructed in trees, under eaves, in wall voids of buildings, in open garages and storage sheds, on porches, in abandoned furniture and in other places that provide protection and are close to food and water. Because of their scavenging behavior, yellowjackets are a menace around parks, camps and suburban sites where people leave open food and discard garbage.
Hornets construct a round or pear-shaped paper nest, up to 3 feet long. The grayish to brown nest has two to four horizontally arranged combs inside and an entrance hole near the bottom.
Hornet nests almost always are above ground, often high in trees. Occasionally, they may be attached to the eaves of buildings. A mature colony may contain 200 to 400 adults.
Hornets typically nest high in trees or in other remote locations, where they pose no threat to humans and should be left undisturbed.
Life Cycle During late summer and fall, males and queen paper wasps are produced. Males and females mate in the fall. The males then die, and fertilized queens enter sheltered locations for hibernation.
Overwintering paper wasp queens may join together, sometimes in large groups. They seem to prefer high structures, such as the peaked attics of houses, chimneys and tall buildings. During the winter, they frequently enter homes and offices, especially during warmer periods.
[in Taxas] Maximum colony size is attained by August or September. This is followed by the emergence of males and next year’s queens in October and November. After mating, the males die and inseminated queens usually seek sheltered places to overwinter, abandoning the nest.    

[1] Baldfaced hornets are also a type of yellowjacket wasp, but because of some behavioral differences, they will be discussed separately.
The term hornet is often used in a general sense to describe many kinds of wasps and yellowjackets. Actually, the baldfaced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata, is the only "hornet" reported in Texas.
Dolichovespula maculata is a North American insect commonly called the bald-faced hornet (or white-faced hornet or white-tailed hornet). Its well-known features include its hanging paper nests and the females' habit of defending them with repeated stings.  It belongs to a genus of wasps called yellowjackets in North America, but is not called that because it lacks yellow coloring. Instead, it is called a hornet in the American sense of a wasp that builds paper nests, especially one of the subfamily Vespinaewiki

"Hornets and wasps are unique in that, even in the absence of sweat glands, they are able to buzz around at temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius without overheating. A new theory presented by Jacob Ishay and colleagues at Tel Aviv University suggests that hornets may keep cool by using their cuticle as an electrical heat pump. The team believes that hornet cuticle is comprised of a stack of thermocouples, which transfer heat from one type of conductive material to another when voltage is applied. The voltage in this scenario would be the hornet's own metabolism, or conversely, solar energy."

European Paper Wasp (Polistes dominula) 

bugguide.net (male) : There is some variation in the species (especially between populations in Europe), but what you refer to is the sexual dimorphism. The males have a yellow face which has more a triangular shape and longer antennae (13 segments) with the last segments slightly curled, while the females have a black band and a more square face with shorter (12 segments) straight antennae. So in the field it is very easy to tell the sex of these wasps - and to know which one can sting (females) and which one can not sting (male). ... But their [the males'] genitalia have 2 rigid parameral spines who can pierce trough the skin, as they do the same gesture of "stinging" as the females do when seized with bare hands. 
And this inflicts a sometimes surprisingly painful micro-wound, enough to release them.  At least for big P. dominula males, an slight itching can persist for several minutes.  As most native North-American species are appreciably larger, I would advice caution with their males.

common paper wasp (or Polistes dominula?) facial markings indicating dominance : The more spots on the face, the higher the dominance status.    src

Wasp faces are "badges of status": signals which reveal size and dominance.  "Badges of status" are well known signals in many different vertebrates. 

In the wasps, we wondered what keeps the relationship between facial patterns and dominance honest. One important hypothesis is that such signals impose "social costs" incurred through repeated agonistic interactions. To test this we evaluated whether "cheater" wasps, wasps which falsely advertise their dominance, get punished.

We painted wasps to experimentally create "cheaters".  "Cheater" betas received more aggression from alphas than controls.  Dominance is a key feature in the lives of these highly social insects. Their badges of status probably plays an important role in settling conflict in many contexts including the order of queen succession, division of labor, sharing of food and the probability of becoming a future queen.