What Do Wasps Eat? | Information & Facts

When most of us hear the word ‘wasp,’ we think of those angry insects with the stingers that hurt like crazy. However, despite most people’s hatred of them, wasps are great for the ecosystem because they eat lots of other pests that we hate just as much as the wasps.

What do wasps eat? Different species of wasps eat various things, but as a whole, they enjoy nectar, plants, honey, fruit, and food left in the garbage to rot. Wasps also eat insects, such as cicadas, ants, flies, aphids, grasshoppers, beetles, and bees. Some of them may consume spiders, caterpillars, and even dead things.

This article will teach you to identify different types of wasps and their nests. It’ll also cover various wasp species’ feeding habits and touch on ways to eliminate unwanted wasps. Keep reading to learn more about these fascinating, flying insects. 

Wasp Identification Guide

There are over 30,000 species of wasps worldwide, so learning to identify all of them would be a daunting task. However, there are still many things we can learn about wasps without trying to memorize all 30,000 of them.


What Is a Wasp?

What Is a Wasp

The simplest answer to this question is that wasps are flying insects. Their taxonomic breakdown is as follows:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Superorder: Holometabola
  • Order: Hymenoptera 
  • Suborder: Apocrita

After that, the taxonomy begins to vary from wasp to wasp. 


What Does a Wasp Look Like?

Because there are thousands of identified wasp species, there isn’t a single answer to this question. Wasps vary in size and color; however, they all have a few things in common. For example, all wasps have:

  • Hard exoskeletons
  • Three-segment bodies (head, thorax, and abdomen)
  • Six jointed legs
  • Long segmented antennae
  • Four developed (usually translucent) wings
  • Compound eyes
  • Narrow waists
  • Hairless or nearly hairless bodies 

Beyond that, wasps can look wildly different. Their colors range from black and other dull, earthy colors to bright, vibrant colors like bright yellow, emerald green, and metallic purple. They range in size from 0.5 mm (0.02 in) to over 50.8 mm (2 in) long. 

Most female wasps have stingers, but most don’t sting unless threatened, and many won’t sting humans or animals even then, using their stingers only for hunting prey.


What Does a Wasp Nest Look Like?

What Does a Wasp Nest Look Like

Just as wasps look different, so do their nests. Paper Wasps, yellow jackets, and Bald-faced Hornets all build nests that look papery, but the construction and preferred location of the nests are different. 

Mud Daubers build their nests from mud and clay, usually in pre-existing cracks and crevices. On the other hand, European Hornets construct nests in natural cavities, like those found in tree stumps. And those are only five of the 30,000 known species.


How Long Do Wasps Live?

Although life cycles vary, most wasps live between two weeks to just over a month as fully grown adults, but a few species live closer to six weeks before dying. Wasp queens can live much longer, with some surviving as long as an entire year to repopulate the hives.


Different Types of Wasps

Different Types of Wasps

Scientists separate all wasps into two groups:

  • Solitary wasps. The most populous; they don’t form colonies and usually grow larger than social wasps. A solitary wasp will also use its stinger for hunting prey, while a social wasp uses its stinger only for defense. 
  • Social wasps. Make up only about 1,000 species of wasps. They form colonies, some holding as many as 5,000 wasps. Queens are the only social wasps that survive the winter; they hibernate and repopulate the colony the following year.

Some of the most common wasps found in North America include: 

  • Paper Wasp
  • Yellowjacket Wasp
  • Bald-faced Hornet wasp (not a true hornet)
  • Red Wasp (a type of paper wasp)
  • Mud dauber
  • European Hornet (the only true hornet in North America)

What Do Wasps Eat? 

What Do Wasps Eat

Overall, most wasps’ favorite food is nectar, with juice from fruits coming in at a close second. People frequently claim they see wasps eating wood, but in reality, they aren’t eating the wood. Instead, they’re chewing off small pieces and carrying them back to build their nests.

Wasps also enjoy honey, plants, sap, and even some human food. They’re mainly attracted to sweet foods, but some also eat spiders, insects, caterpillars, and even dead things. More often, where meat is concerned, wasps don’t eat them. Instead, they drag them back to their nests and feed them to their larvae.


How Do Wasps Eat?

How a wasp eats depends largely on what it’s eating at the time. Wasps have mandibles that allow them to cut, bite, and chew just as humans do. If they’re eating meat or other solid foods, they use these mandibles to do it.

However, other parts of their mouths act like a suctorial proboscis. They use these parts for drinking nectar and consuming pollen and other less solid food.

On the other hand, Wasp larvae have a different way of eating that we’ll discuss a little later on in the article.


What Do Wasps Like To Eat?

What Do Wasps Like To Eat

Let’s look at some of the most frequently asked questions about wasps’ eating habits:

  • Do wasps eat wood? Most of the time, wasps only chew the wood and use it to build nests; although, a few wasps feed on wood.
  • Do wasps eat caterpillars? Yes, meat-eating wasps are fond of caterpillars. They also kill them and use them to feed their larvae.
  • Do wasps eat aphids? Many wasps love aphids, which is only one reason wasps are very beneficial to the ecosystem.
  • Do wasps eat ants? Wasps don’t usually eat ants, but they will kill them and feed them to their larvae. The bone-house wasp is a regular hunter of ants for this purpose.
  • Do wasps eat flies? Meat-eating wasps sometimes eat flies, but more often, wasps feed flies to their larvae.
  • Can wasps eat through brick? No, though mason wasps sometimes make their nests in pre-existing cracks and holes in brick.

Some of these questions may seem strange, but we’ve heard them asked more than once.


How Often Do Wasps Eat?

How Often Do Wasps Eat

During the spring and summer months, adult wasps spend most of the daylight hours eating and foraging food. They settle down at night and don’t do as much flying, feeding, or foraging. 

When the weather turns cooler in the fall, most worker wasps die. The queens are the only ones that survive, hibernating through the winter.


What Do Baby Wasps Eat?

Wasp larvae have no wings and cannot leave the nest. They eat only what the adult wasps bring back to them, usually insects or spiders they’ve stung and paralyzed, or sometimes killed. Some species of wasp larvae hatch inside dead spiders’ abdomens and consume the spiders as they grow.


Wasp Control

Wasp Control

Although wasps are beneficial to the ecosystem and most don’t sting humans, we still don’t like them. When we see wasps or wasp nests near our home, our first instinct is usually to get rid of them. Here’s how you do it.


How To Get Rid of Wasps?

This step-by-step guide will show you exactly how to get rid of wasps.

1. Identification

The first step to getting rid of wasps is identifying what species are living on your property. Some wasps aren’t dangerous to people, and since they’re beneficial to the environment, you may decide to let the harmless ones stay.

Additionally, some wasps, like yellow jackets, are aggressive, and if you’re dealing with them, you’ll want to know upfront so you can be more careful during the process.


2. Decide Who’s Going To Handle It

After you’ve identified your wasps, the next step is to determine whether you’re going to tackle the nest yourself or hire a professional. 

If you’re severely allergic to wasp stings, don’t attack the nest yourself! It may cost you more to hire a professional, but the price is sure to be less than an expensive hospital bill if you get stung.

Exterminators

3. Find the Nest/Colony

If you’ve decided to hire a professional, make the call, and your work is done. However, if you plan to tackle the nest yourself, the next step is finding the wasps’ home. You can, of course, kill individual wasps one by one, but colonies can hold up to 5,000 wasps, so the one-by-one method isn’t going to be an efficient use of your time. 

Suit up in protective gear – long sleeves, long pants, closed-toed shoes, and gloves – and search for the colony. 

Researching your species of wasp to see where they most commonly build their nests should help you locate it faster.


4. Spray the Nest With Insecticide

Finally, you’ll spray the nest with a powerful insecticide, such as Spectracide Wasp & Hornet Killer. I like this brand because it allows you to spray from 20 ft (6.10 m) away from the nest. It’s also effective and kills wasps and hornets on contact, so if you hit one, it won’t have time to fly at your face in revenge.

SpectracidePRO Wasp & Hornet Killer (Aerosol) (HG-30110) (Pack Of 2)
  • Fast knockdown
  • Dielectric breakdown voltage of 47,300 volts
  • Jet spray reaches nests up to 20 ft away
  • Kills the entire nest

Be sure to coat the nest thoroughly; saturate it from every side. That allows the insecticide to penetrate through the nest’s walls and kill the wasps inside.


How To Get Rid of Wasp Nest?

Because the best way to get rid of wasps is to find the wasp nest and get rid of it, the steps for getting rid of wasp nests are identical to those for getting rid of wasps which are:

  • Identification
  • Determination of who’ll do the job
  • Tracking down the nest
  • Suiting up
  • Spraying the nest with insecticide

How To Get Rid of Wasps Naturally?

Some people don’t like to use pesticides, and they ask us how to keep wasps away naturally. When it comes to aggressive wasps, we usually encourage them to use powerful insecticides so that they don’t get stung, but for those of you who insist on using natural remedies, here are some that might work:

  • A mixture of dish soap and water
  • Adding mint plants around your home
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Still, if you’re dealing with aggressive wasps, you may want to take the more tried and true route of insecticides.


Are There Any Benefits of Wasps?

There’s no denying that a wasp sting hurts, but despite their potential to hurt us, wasps do a lot of good, too. Unlike bees, they aren’t extensive pollinators, although the queens play an essential role in pollination in some areas. However, they do a great job of keeping the insect population low. 

According to an article from the Natural History Museum’s website, “social wasps in the UK capture an estimated 14 million kg (over 30 million lbs) of insect prey” each summer. That’s a lot of bugs. Without wasps, those pesky pests would soon overrun us.


Summary

Adult wasps eat a wide range of foods, including both sweets and meat, but most species prefer to eat only sweet foods (nectar, fruit, juice, etc.) once they reach adulthood. Wasp larvae, however, eat meat brought to them by their parents or the adults in the colony. 

Whether they’re eating them or feeding them to their young, wasps play a significant role in keeping the insect population down in the areas where they live. Unless you’re concerned about your safety when dealing with aggressive wasps, you might want to leave them be and let them eat other pests.


List of Sources

Jesse, L. Yellowjacket Wasps Look for Sweet Things to Eat in the Fall. Iowa State University Extension.

Breece, C., Wyns, D., Sagili, R. (2018). Protecting Honey Bees from Yellowjacket Wasps. Oregon State University Extension Service.

Main, D. (2014). This Wasp Eats Spiders And Stacks Up Corpses Of Stinging Ants. Popular Science.

Biddinger, D. (2017). Tree Fruit Insect Pests – Yellow Jackets and Hornets. Penn State Extension.

Osterloff, E. What do wasps do? The Natural History Museum.