T.E.R:R.A.I.N - Taranaki Educational Resource: Research, Analysis and Information Network


Wasp (Common) Vespula vulgaris

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Suborder: Apocrita
Family: Vespidae
Genus: Vespula
Subgenus: (Paravespula)
Species: V. vulgaris
Binomial name: Vespula vulgaris
Common name: Common wasp.

The common wasp is a yellow jacket wasp was accidentally introduced to New Zealand in 1920. It has reached plague proportions in some areas of New Zealand. They compete with native birds for nectar, fruit and honeydew.

The fertilised queen emerges from hibernation in the spring and builds a grey paper nest underground, often using an abandoned mammal hole as a start for the site, which is then enlarged by the workers. The foundress queen may also select a hollow tree, wall cavity, loft, garden shed or rock crevice for a nest site. 
Adult workers of the common wasp measure about 12–17 millimetres from head to abdomen [whereas the queen is about 20 millimetres long. It has aposematic (warning colouration) colours of black and yellow and is very similar to the German wasp, but seen head-on; its face lacks the three black dots characteristic of that species. Additionally, it can be distinguished by a lack of black dots on its back.

The nest has open cells and a petiole attaching the nest to the substrate. The wasps produce a chemical which repels ants and secrete it around the base of this petiole in order to avoid ant predation. A solitary female queen starts the nest, building 20–30 cells before initial egg-laying. This phase begins in spring, depending on climatic conditions. She fashions a petiole and produces a single cell at the end of it. Six further cells are then added around this to produce the characteristic hexagonal shape of the nest cells.
The spherical nest is built up from layers of cells. Once the larvae have hatched as workers, they take up most of the colony’s foraging, brood care and nest maintenance. A finished nest may contain 5,000–10,000 individuals. Each wasp colony includes one queen and a number of sterile workers. Colonies usually last only one year, all but the queen dying at the onset of winter. However, in a milder climate of some parts of New Zealand, a few of the colonies survive the winter, although this is much more common with the German wasp.
This common and widespread wasp collects insects including caterpillars to feed to its larvae. The adults feed on nectar and sweet fruit.  Common wasps will also attempt to invade honey bee nests to steal their honey; the bees attempt to defend their nest by stinging the wasp to death.

Wasps have often featured in poetry. This is the first internet copy of Plain Murder written by A.G. Prys-Jones (1888 – 1987) sometime before 1959. It seems to refer to the squashing of a wasp before it can sting the author. It was published in “Yet More Comic and Curious Verse” selected by J. H. Cohen (1959).

I saw a wasp upon a wall
And did not like his face at all:
And so the creature had no time
To wonder whether he liked mine.

Photo of the aposematic colouration of three wasp species
   
A queen wasp just out of hibernation.












The underside,


A common wasp’s entrance to their underground nest. This nest had been poisoned 5 days previous.


Digging out the nest


The nest is made from chewed wood fibres, mixed with saliva. 



The nest has been removed from underground; some of its outer casing has been removed to show the internal construction. See poisoned wasps at the bottom.
 
Dead wasps at bottom of the nest

Looking inside at the construction of the different levels of the nest. Note the pillar system used to hold up each roof layer, even a week after poisoning larvae grubs can be seen hatching.

For more details of a wasp nest visit http://www.landcareresearch.co.nz/research/biocons/invertebrates/Wasps/nest_expansion.asp

Young wasps still hatching


Head of Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) showing its jaws