Common Garden wasps are often referred to as yellow jackets. They are a social wasp, which build nests and live in a colony that’s governed by an egg-laying queen. Although there are over 9,000 different species of wasps in the UK, only eight species are social wasps, which includes the European Hornet.
The remaining species are all solitary wasps that live independent lives and either build a solitary nest for their larvae to develop within, or parasitise another invertebrate, within which their larvae feed and develop.
Common Garden wasps play an important role in the environment since they control a wide range of plant pests by catching them and feeding them to wasp grubs within the nest. All the worker wasps however, are sterile females who have a needle-like structure at the end of their bodies called an ovipositor for laying eggs. However, the ovipositor on some wasp species, which includes the social wasps, is also used to inject a painful toxin for defence and for killing their prey.
For most of the year the common garden wasps are working for their queen who remains inside the nest where she lays about 100 eggs each day, and they are kept busy building and repairing the nest as well as hunting prey that they take back to their nest to feed to the grubs that are developing within.
Whilst they are busy working, Garden wasp workers are not usually a problem for us unless we disturb their nest or threaten them. However, at the end of the year they often become a nuisance when the colony comes to the end of its life and the founder queen dies. At this point, new queen wasps disperse to mate and to prepare for hibernation through the winter, whilst any surviving worker wasps live out their final days searching for sugary substances to eat before they die. Unfortunately, this often includes sugary items and drinks that we might be enjoying.
The new queen wasps that will have mated, are the only members of the old colonies that survive through the winter months in hibernation. They then emerge the following Spring to find a suitable location to start building a nest to establish their own colonies for the year ahead.