|Copyright: Haraprasan Nayak (haraprasan)
|Date Taken: 2007-05-03|
|Camera: Nikon Coolpix E5600|
|Exposure: f/5.9, 1/60 seconds|
|Photo Version: Original Version|
|Date Submitted: 2007-06-20 3:44|
|[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note|
|Although there are varying definitions, the term wasp generally refers to the stinging members of the suborder Apocrita, order Hymenoptera, excluding the bees and ants. Some of the nonstinging members of the suborder Symphyta (for example, the wood and cedarwood wasps), however, are also termed wasps.|
The modern word is derived from Anglo-Saxon words (waefs, waeps, waesp) that apparently originated from the root wefan ("to weave"), in reference to the "woven" nests made by social paper wasps. These hornets and yellow jackets are, in fact, the insects most people associate with the term wasp.
Of the Apocrita two superfamilies, Sphecoidea (sphecoid wasps) and Vespoidea (vespoid wasps), comprise the so-called true wasps. The sphecoid wasps are usually solitary. The sphecids (family Sphecidae) constitute a large group of graceful and colorful wasps that range from about 0.5 to 5 cm (0.25 to 2 in) in length. The vespoid wasps, either solitary or social, are usually combinations of black, red, or yellow. They include the hornets, the yellow jackets, the spider wasps, the tiphiids, and the scoliids.
In predaceous wasps the female ovipositor is modified as a sting and does not function as an egg-laying tool. The sting is used for defense and for subduing other insects, which are gathered as food for their young. These wasps usually build a nest of mud or plant material or excavate a nest in soil, crevices, or plant stems, where the prey is hidden and the egg is laid. Most such wasps are solitary and thus are not commonly noticed. The social wasps, however, live in colonies of up to several thousand members and are often conspicuous. In nonstingers, or wasps that live a "parasitic" form of life, the females use their ovipositor to inject an egg into or onto a host insect or spider. There is no nest construction, and the host is eventually killed by one or more wasp larvae that feed on it.
All wasps undergo a complete metamorphosis, as do the butterflies and moths; that is, there is an egg, and a larval, a pupal, and an adult stage. Unlike caterpillars, wasp larvae are rarely seen, because they are almost always hidden in a protected nest or host insect.
The predaceous, solitary wasps use one or more prey as food for their young, depending on the wasp species. Each species will generally collect only one type of prey (for example, grasshoppers, weevils, or spiders), but some may take unrelated insects or, rarely, even act as scavengers, taking dead or dying insects.
The following examples demonstrate some diversity in habits found among solitary wasps. The mud-dauber (genus Sceliphron) nests in protected places, building mud cells that it provisions with several small spiders. The spider wasps (family Pompilidae), which dig their nest in the ground, prey on spiders, using one for each nest. The spider wasps' prey must be as large as the wasp itself. The cicada killer (genus Sphecius) digs a single hole in the ground, catches a cicada, stings it, and buries it in the nest with an egg. Certain digger wasps (genus Clypeadon) capture ants at the ant-nest entrance.
In the social wasps, also referred to as paper wasps, hornets, or yellow jackets, one to several females begin a colony by making small paper cells of masticated plant material mixed with saliva. One egg is laid per cell, and when it hatches the larva is fed chewed bits of other insects, especially caterpillars. Colonies of hornets and yellow jackets (genus Vespula) are founded by a single queen, but colonies of other paper wasps (such as the genus Polistes) may have several founder females. Eventually, however, only one female, the queen, lays eggs. When the larvae transform to adults, they join the queen in constructing and provisioning the colony.
Two basic types of paper nest are made in North America. Both have at least a single layer of cells attached to some object, but one type has only the single layer and is built above ground (often on the underside of the eaves of houses), whereas the other type has multiple layers and is surrounded by a paper "envelope." The latter type of nest is often built in trees or in protected places such as abandoned animal burrows or hollow walls.
Humans have little need to be wary around any but the social wasps. Solitary wasps are nonaggressive. They can, and do, sting natural prey, but even the largest generally sting humans only when handled. The social wasps, however, are aggressive and easily provoked, and they sting in numbers when disturbed. Despite this hazard most wasps aid humans greatly by destroying many insects, such as caterpillars, that compete with humans for food. In some cultures wasp larvae provide food as well as fish bait for humans and can produce honey of commercial value.
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