Michelle Crighton, age 12, of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, for her question:
Is there such a thing as a queen wasp?
There are hundreds of different wasps and each species has its own special life style. Some prefer to share a nest with a huge family and a queen mother who lays all the eggs. Others prefer more ordinary mothers who tend the eggs for very small families. Most wasp species get along without a queen and so do many of the bee species. The queen wasps and bees are needed when colonies of insects live to¬gether in very large family groups.
The nest building wasps are called "social" insects because they live in societies. About 50 species of social wasps are native to North America and all of their nests are organized by queen mothers. Most of the wasps in the nest are workers, or unfertile females. The species that do not go in for enormous families are called solitary wasps. Each female builds an elaborate incubator to take care of perhaps a dozen of her eggs. In North America, we have about 1,000 kinds of solitary wasps.
The social bees build hives that last for many years and their colonies survive the winter. Come fall, the drones are shoved outside in the cold and many of the weary workers perish. The queen bee and several hundred workers seal themselves inside and ration the honey supplies until spring brings back the flowers:
A colony of social wasps does not survive the winter. The workers and the males perish in the fall and a few fertilized queens go into hibernation. When spring, re¬turns, each young queen comes forth and selects a site for a new nest. She builds enough cells for a few eggs and devours insects to feed the larvae on partly digested food.
For the first few days she is kept very busy. But her small brood soon develops through the larva and pupa stage. Then there is a team of worker wasps to take care of the everyday chores and the queen wasp does nothing but lay eggs and more eggs. By the middle of summer, there are hundreds of wasps in the colony, all of them workers, or undeveloped females.
Later in the season, the queen lays eggs that develop into males and properly developed females. The young males and females mate and the males die before the frost comes. The fertilized females find cozy places to hibernate. Next spring they forth to establish themselves as the queens of new wasp nests.
Most social wasps build paper nests. The workers chew crumbs of wood, mix it with saliva and pat the paste into layers. When it dries, it form cells for the growing wasps and a sturdy, water proof shell around the whole nest. The papery nest may hang from a bough or the edge of a shed. As a rule, the doorway is at the bottom. Please remember that these social wasps are bad tempered stingers, especially when they think their nest is threatened.