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As the leader of the wasp nest, there must be differences that set the queen wasp apart from the rest of the members of the nest, right? So, what are these differences? And how do you identify a queen wasp from its wasp? Besides, how do you differentiate wasps from bees? This is what we’ll learn in this post.
What is a Queen Wasp?
What exactly is a queen wasp? We figured we’d give you a head start because ‘she’ is going to be the center of discussion of the post, anyway. A queen-wasp is the leader of the wasp nest, whose main role is to lay eggs and continue her lineage through her workers and by giving birth to the next row of queen-wasps.
More vividly colored than the workers, a queen wasp has bright yellow and black stripes. The journey of a queen wasp starts when she emerges out of hibernation in spring and then goes on to forage for a suitable place for nesting.
Once she has established a nest, she lays eggs in it, which hatch into sterile female workers. These female workers help expand the nest while feeding the queen. The queen keeps laying eggs for the rest of her life, but these eggs are no more sterile but fertile males and females.
Now, how does the queen continue her lineage? From amongst the fertile females who will mate with the fertile males or drones, the queen wasp selects a candidate best suited for the throne right next to her. She trains her, and this trained candidate then leaves the nest to prepare for hibernation. Later, this female wasp elected to be the queen emerges from hibernation and forages for a place to nest and lay eggs. And the cycle continues.
How to Identify a Queen Wasp?
Identifying a queen wasp from the workers may seem like a daunting task, but if you know what to look for, it’s a walk over the brook.
So, to make the walk breezier, here we go…
Dance-like Wing Movement of Queen
The queen shows an apparent dance-like movement when she has found an appropriate nesting place. The dance-like movement is the queen’s way of expressing and marking her territory.
The queen flies frontwards and backward in front of the place where she has recently laid her nest, hovering slowly and repeating the movements until it’s far from the hole. She makes the figure ‘8’ sideways when flying high and flies in a straight line later in order to mark landmarks to instantly recognize where her nest is when she ventures away too far.
She’s the Largest in the Colony
As obvious as it can get, the queen wasp is the largest in her colony, reaching a size larger than both the adult female and male worker wasps. A worker wasp, either male or female, grows to an average size of about 1.2-1.7 cm (depending on the species), but the queen wasp easily measures in the range of 2-2.5 cm.
You can also differentiate the queen wasp from the male wasps or drones by the stinger, which is absent in the drones. However, it’s not just the queen that has a stinger, but all female wasps do, so to identify the queen out of both male wasps and the female workers, check for the stinger and the size of the wasp. If she has a stinger and is bigger than other wasps (with or without a stinger), she is a queen wasp.
In yellow jackets, the queen is about 0.25 inches longer than the worker wasps. However, talking in general, the large size of the queen is because she is fed special meals by the worker wasps, which gives her a boost in terms of growth. This boost is provided by the hormones she acquires by feeding on the superior quality of food.
The trend of the largest female being the queen is not exclusively seen in wasps but also in other advanced social insects such as honeybees and ants.
Apart from the distinction by size, a queen wasp will also have a narrow waist, narrower than all other wasps in her colony, and a triangular-shaped head.
The Colours Say it All
A queen is more vividly colored than her workers residing in the colony. So, if you’re seeing multiple wasps at once, and one of them seems to stand out with bright colors, it is highly probable it’s the queen wasp.
You can also differentiate between hornets and a queen wasp by analyzing the color. Hornets, precisely the European hornets, have a black and yellow abdomen with typically black or reddish-brown legs and thorax. Wasps, on the other hand, have black and yellow striped bodies, which include the thorax and the legs. Asian hornets are mostly dark-colored, tending towards black, and no wasps are completely black.
Surrounded by Guard Wasps
The queen wasp is looked after by the young wasps, and good care is taken of her. The queen wasps don’t move around the colonies of the wasps in general. They stay in their own cells of the nests, where the workers feed them. While feeding the queen, some worker wasps can be seen moving back and forth of a given area of the nest.
The queen is surrounded by the young wasps and will provide security and stay with the queen for motherly care. The queens may remain in their cells for their entire life, while the workers would feed her and protect her.
Only Queens Live Through the Winter
If you ever spot a solitary wasp during winters, it is highly possible it is the queen wasp. It is so because only queens live through winters while the workers die. The queen (the new one) sets out of the nest to prepare for hibernation while the old queen and the workers die, leaving their legacy to be lived by the newly chosen queen.
The queen wasp you spot in winters will usually be residing in the crevices of a wall, the old tree trunk, or some other place such as your garden shed that can protect it from the cold and predators.
If you notice a solo wasp lying in a spot with her wings wrapped around her body, it is probably a queen wasp in a state of dormancy (who can still sting) overwintering so as to precede the old queen. As spring comes, she has to forage for a nesting place.
A New Colony Begins in Spring
A New Colony begins in spring; it is during the late spring when the new queen that was previously fertilized emerges from hibernation. Initially, the new queen begins with a small nest in which the first eggs laid are sterile female workers that hatch in 3-4 weeks. The new workers take over foraging and look after the queen from the early beginning of spring to the end of May.
Mating Occurs in Autumn
The queen produces worker wasps to enlarge its colony throughout the summer. During the last summer, the last eggs that are yet to hatch would be the new queens and drones.
The virgin queen wasps can be easily identified by their size; they move around meadow flowers eating and keep gaining fat until flying off to mate with drones from other hives in the fall. When mating is over, the drone dies with the old queen and her colony of workers in the cold temperature of winter that arrives.
How to identify a Wasp from a Bee?
So, we do know how to identify a queen wasp, but how do you identify between wasps and bees, in general? Here’s how:
Bees have fat legs that are long, with wings that are brightly colored. The wings lay flat and unfolded on the top of their abdomen when the bee is static. The abdomen of a bee is characteristically golden brown with thin black stripes.
The whole body has a fuzzy appearance, but the thorax, in particular, is covered with branched hairs.
Each of their hind legs has flattened parts to be able to collect pollen from flowers.
Wasps are half an inch longer than wasps, with narrower waists than bees do. Wasps do not have a fuzzy appearance, and they are generally brown with yellowish markings.
Their wings dangle between their legs while they are flying. Wasps also do not have parts of hind legs flattened since they do not collect pollen.
The wasps get easily provoked, and they tend to be more aggressive by nature than the bees. They capture and kill their prey with their sting; they can sting a target multiple times because their stinger is smooth and easily slips out of its target- it does not detach and embed in the skin.
The wasps may also sting while you are trying to brush them away. They mark targets that harm them, threaten them, or if they sense danger to it or the nest. They generally show aggregation very often towards the predators.
Bees are known to be less aggressive as compared to wasps. They use their stingers mainly in defense, and most of the honeybees die after stinging a predator or any other threatening being.
The bees die after stinging because their stingers are barbed and stay in the target or the person’s skin- the stinger is ripped from the thorax of the bee. The loss of their stinger causes bodily injury, which mostly kills them.
In an attempt to protect their hives or themselves, the bees use their poison in the stingers against anyone who disturb their hives. The sting of a honey bee stinger is nastier than a sweet bee because the stinger stays in the target with a venom sac attached.
Foods of Choice
Bees are vegetarian, and they don’t consume or kill other insects. They are pollinators who sip nectar from flowers and bring water to clean their hives and for drinking as well. Bees feed only on nectar (carbohydrates) and pollen (protein) from flowers. Apart from honey, they also produce royal jelly, which is rich in protein and carbohydrates. In fact, it is the Royal Jelly that must be consumed by the queen bee in order to reign the throne.
Wasps are involved in mass killing and hunting of prey, mostly including caterpillars and flies. Other than feeding on different types of insects, they also sip on nectar too. They are found buzzing around sugary beverages like overripe fruit, honeydew, and juices; they are attracted to human food mainly. Like bees, they also make a kind of honey that they feed to their larvae, but it has much less output than bee honey.
There are different species of bees, and they build different types of nests. The honeycomb hives of the bees are a mathematically intricate structure of hexagonal cells. The complete structure is densely packed and made of beeswax.
The cells are used for storing food and the laying of next generations’ eggs, larvae, and pupae. And the stingless bees build bag-like homes without precise structure. The honey bees don’t hibernate during the winter like the wasps. But other than the queen who may live for three years, the other members of the bee workers die when winter comes.
There are some species of wasps that are social and live in colonies, while there are other species that are solitary and live on their own. Their nests aren’t made of any kind of wax because they don’t have any wax-producing glands.
Instead of wax, their homes or wax are made of undigested wood pulp, which is a paper-like structure. The solitary wasps mostly build a small mud-like nest, which is attached to a surface that is the base of the operation. The structure of these mud nests is more like a vase with multiple small cells.
Among all other differences between bees and wasps, social structure and life is an important difference. Bees live in a colony or nest which has approximately 75,000 members in it. They are highly social creatures, and the whole colony is supported by the single queen bee. The female workers also support and take good care of their queen.
Wasps are also social creatures which the size of their nests basically states. The queen starts constructing its nest, and when it reaches the size of a walnut, the sterile daughters of the queen carry forward the construction. Their colony can have approximately 10,000 members with at least one queen.