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Biology Of Wasps

Wasps have a complete metamorphosis with four stages in their life history: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

Adult wasps have four sparsely veined, membranous wings, and most species have their abdomen joined to the thorax across a very narrow waist. Wasps have chewing mouth parts, useful for masticating their food and for pulping wood to manufacture the paper that wasps often use to build the cell-like walls of their nests. The ovipositor of female wasps is modified into a stinger, located at the end of their abdomen. This organ can deliver a dose of venom to kill or paralyze other insects which may be eaten or used as a living provision for young wasps. The social wasps will also aggressively sting large animals if they feel that their nest is threatened.

There are males and females of most species of wasps. However, as with most species in the order Hymenoptera, males are normally produced from nonfertilized eggs in a developmental process known as parthenogenesis. Female wasps develop from fertilized eggs and are usually much more abundant than males. In some species, male wasps are not even known to occur.

Solitary wasps are relatively small insects that build their nests in burrows in the ground or out of mud on an exposed surface. The nest is then provisioned with a insect or spider that has been paralyzed by stinging and upon which one or more eggs are laid. The prey serves as a living but immobile food for the developing larvae of the wasp. Although quite small, parasitic wasps can be rather abundant, and they can exert a substantial measure of control over the populations of their prey species.

In contrast, the social wasps are relatively large insects that live in colonies of various size. Vespid wasps develop colonies with three castes: queens, drones, and workers. The drones are relatively short-lived males and serve only to fertilize the queens. The queens are long-lived wasps, and their major function is to initiate a colony and then spend their life laying eggs. Once a colony is established, the eggs and young are tended by workers which are nonfertile female wasps that can be very numerous in large colonies. Social wasps cooperatively feed their developing young on a continuous basis, often with chewed-up insects and other animal-derived foods.

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