Wasps are a common sight throughout spring, summer, and fall, but have you ever wondered about their life? How long do wasps live? What is their life cycle? How do they reproduce? Keep reading to find out the answers to all of these questions.
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How Long Do Wasps Live?
There are over 30,000 species of wasp in the world, and as you might imagine, lifespans vary from species to species. That said, many wasps have similar lifespans regardless of their species, and the length of time they survive may have more to do with various environmental factors.
For example, bad weather can destroy wasp colonies and kill many of the wasps prematurely. Various insects and animals hunt and eat wasps, so their lives are in nearly constant peril throughout their adulthood.
There are two broad categories of wasps: social wasps and solitary wasps. Social wasps live in large colonies, while solitary wasps do not.
For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on social wasps, as the lifespans of solitary wasps vary much more widely. Social wasps have fairly consistent lifespans, though how long each individual wasp lives depends on whether it is a queen, worker, or drone.
Let’s take a look at each of these in turn and discuss the average lifespan for each one.
Queen wasps are the fertile females of the colony. They are the only ones capable of reproduction because they produce a pheromone that prevents the reproductive organs of other females from fully developing.
Queens go into hibernation each fall after being fertilized. The following spring, they begin building their nest and lay eggs; this first batch of eggs hatches, matures, and assists the queen with building the nest and raising her larvae.
Each fall, new queens are chosen and fertilized. These new queens go into hibernation and begin the cycle anew, while the old queens die off with the rest of the colony.
So, in most cases, queen wasps live for about a year.
Check out this video to see how potter wasp queens build their nests.
Worker wasps are the unmated females of the colony, and they have much shorter lifespans than their mothers, the queens.
As their name suggests, these wasps spend much of their lives working–either they are helping to build and maintain the nest, raise and protect the larvae, or gather food. Their duties often take them far from the nest, so they spend much of their lives out in the unprotected wild.
Because they work so hard, their bodies wear down quickly, and spending so much time out in the open leaves them vulnerable to a variety of predators. For these reasons, worker wasps rarely live more than six weeks, and many have even shorter lifespans.
In fact, the most common lifespan for adult worker wasps is about 12 to 22 days.
Drones are the male wasps of the colony. They stay in the nest and don’t work nearly as much as the worker wasps, as their only purpose is to mate with the queens.
Because they live a sheltered, sedentary life, their bodies don’t wear out as quickly as worker wasps. That said, they are sometimes prematurely killed by worker wasps if there are too many of them or if there isn’t enough food to go around.
If they are not killed, drones may live slightly longer than workers, but they still have relatively short lifespans compared to queens. They usually die shortly after mating.
What is a Wasp’s Life Cycle?
When we look at the average lifespan of a wasp, we are specifically talking about adult wasps. But the adult stage is the final phase in the insect’s overall lifespan; to get to this stage, they must first go through the egg, larval, and pupal stages.
Let’s take a closer look at a wasp’s total life cycle.
Queen wasps lay all the eggs in a colony; they begin in the spring and continue throughout the summer months. Depending on the type of wasp and size of the colony, a single nest may contain as many as 400 eggs at a time.
The eggs are protected and cared for by the queen and worker wasps. They must be kept warm and protected from danger.
It can take anywhere from 5 days to 2 weeks before the eggs hatch, and this can vary by species.
When the time is right, soft-bodied larvae emerge from the eggs. These immature wasps are unable to fly, so they stay in the nest and are cared for by the queen and worker wasps.
Wasp larvae eat a high-protein diet that largely consists of insects that worker wasps capture and bring back for them. They eat a lot and grow quickly, shedding their skin several times as they grow.
Wasps remain in the larval stage for about 9 to 24 days depending on species.
When wasp larvae shed their skin for the last time, they become a pupa. Sometimes, this pupa will encase itself in a protective silk cocoon.
While in the pupa, the wasp slowly morphs from a larva into an adult. Legs, wings, and adult body parts are formed, and the wasp doesn’t eat during this time as it is basically dormant.
The pupal stage lasts about 8 to 22 days depending on species.
Once the adult wasp has matured inside the pupa, it begins to emerge from the papery shell and silky cocoon. The process can take some time; it may take up to 5 days for the wasp to fully emerge from the cocoon.
Once the wasp is out, it will feed on fruit and other sugary substances to gain strength.
How Do Wasps Reproduce?
Toward the end of the season, during the fall, queen wasps no longer produce workers to fill the colony; instead, they begin laying eggs that hatch into drones and future queens. These drones and fertile females mate usually outside the nest, on or near the ground near their colony.
The rest of the colony, including the drones and the previous queens, begin to die off; but the new queens go into hibernation.
Those that survive through the winter begin a new colony the following spring; they lay the eggs that were fertilized the previous fall, which hatch and become the first generation of workers to help build the nest and expand the colony.
The queen continues laying fertilized eggs throughout the summer using sperm she collected and stored the previous fall. It is only as she begins to run out of this supply that she lays the eggs that become drones and future queens.
Wasps live anywhere from a few days up to a year depending on their species, environmental conditions, and whether they are queens, workers, or drones. Queens live the longest, as they are solely responsible for laying eggs and keeping the species going.