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Types of Wasps

Marian K
Wasps are winged insects that play an important role in the ecosystem. This post has information on the types of wasps that are frequently sighted in North America.
Wasps are flying insects that have a stinger―and interestingly, it is the female wasp which possesses this organ. Along with ants and bees, all the different types of wasps fall under the order of Hymenoptera.
Wasp species are numerous, with around 400 in the US alone, and around 75000 worldwide. They are a very important part of the food chain, and key to controlling insect population, as almost every pest species has at least one wasp species that preys upon it.
Here's a brief description of four wasp species commonly found in North America:

Yellow Jackets

The common name 'yellow jacket' is indicative of this wasp's distinctive black and yellow strips. Belonging to the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula, this is one of the most common predatory wasp in North America.
Not all the members of this family share the same coloring, as some, such as the bald-faced hornet are black-and-white, and others have a base color of red. They live in colonies, and the average yellow jacket colony boasts of a population between 2,800 and 5,000 wasps. They are small creatures with a nasty sting.

Paper Wasps

There are 22 species of paper wasps in North America and about 700 species worldwide. The average size of a paper wasp is ¾ to 1 inch in length, with black wings that are folded lengthwise when stationary.
Some species appear to have brown and yellow markings, whereas others can be reddish-brown. Their name stems from their nests that are made of a paper-like material which is actually a combination of fibers from dead wood and plant stems mixed with saliva.

Potter Wasps

An ode to the magnificence of the natural world is the potter wasp's nest. The female carries a droplet of water and mixes it with dry clay earth. She then fashions it into a jug-shaped nest that has a narrow neck. The lower side of the nest is built using twigs.
Also called mason wasps, they are found across the northern hemisphere. In the United States and Canada, there are about 270 species, extending to about 3000 that are found worldwide. The food of most potter wasps comprises flower nectar, while their young are fed small caterpillars.
The hunting method followed is that the caterpillars are first paralyzed with the venom from the wasp's sting and then transported to cell where the wasp larva develops. The female will lay an egg on the caterpillar, which the larva feeds on as it grows.

Cuckoo Wasps

It is the common name for a family of over 3000 described species of wasps, with about 230 species in the United States and Canada alone. They can be identified by their bright metallic body, colored in a shade of brilliant blue, green, or red.
They are described as parasitoid or cleptoparasitic wasps and lay their eggs in the nests of bees, other wasps, and certain insects. They are small and secretive, and cannot be spotted too often. However, one may find them in abundance around flowers and small shrubs, and in open sunny habitats.
Though often considered a nuisance, closer examination of wasps reveal fascinating details. One such example is the hornets nest that can house up to 15,000 individuals, that fiercely defend their underground nest if disturbed. This is where the term, 'stirring up a hornet's nest', comes from.