Wasp species, along with their bee relatives, don’t live longer than a month. Most only live for a couple of weeks. Queen wasps, however, can live up to a year. Wasps develop quickly to contribute to their colonies, whether by working or mating, which contributes to their shortened lifespan.
The Worker Wasp’s Lifespan
Among social wasps, worker wasps are unmated females that are daughters of the queen wasps. They help build the nest, feed the larvae, guard the nest, and forage and bring food back to their colonies. Their lifespan is 12 to 24 days. These wasps work diligently to provide for drones and queens. Their constant activity wears out their bodies, which leads to their shortened lives.
Worker wasps also do not have a working reproductive system because the queen wasp gives off a pheromone that stops their sexual maturation. This means colonies don’t require them to live as long in order to repopulate. However, if the queen wasp dies, then the worker wasps can grow ovaries and lay eggs to produce all-male wasps.
The Drone Wasp’s Lifespan
Drone wasps are the male wasps that are produced in the late summer or early fall to fertilize all the new queen wasps. The drones live a little while longer than workers. Their bodies are not as taxed as workers, as they generally hang around their hive waiting to mate with the queen.
Drone wasps die after mating, but they also can be killed by worker wasps so that the hive can preserve its food supply.
The Queen Wasp’s Lifespan
Queens wasps live significantly longer than drones and workers. They survive for an astonishing 12 months. Unlike their honey bee counterparts, whose queen can live for multiple years, a new batch of queen wasps takes over each year. In a year, the queen wasps will initiate her own colony, ending the previous one.
Why Do Queen Wasps Live Longer Than Others?
Queen wasps are the sole female reproducers. They live through the mating season, hibernate, then go off to start a new colony in the spring. Their long existence allows them to lay eggs for their entire lifetimes.
The eggs that are fertilized during the fall are laid in the nest the following spring as the female builds and grows her colony.
Additionally, females are the only ones who are able to start building nests. While other social insects like honey bees build their hives together, queen wasps start off completely alone. Each spring, they begin by forming the first few cells of the nest, and then only when they accumulate enough hatched worker wasps to take over for them can they remain in the nest.
The Wasp Life Cycle
Entire colonies of wasps start and die off at the same time. They go through stages throughout the seasons which make up their life cycles.
The development stages of wasps:
|Egg||Queen wasps lay eggs in the wood fiber cells of her nest. The newborn remains an egg for about 5 to 6 days after birth.|
|Larvae||The egg hatches into a larva, which the queen will feed. Larvae go through this stage for 9 to 22 days.|
|Pupa||Pupation happens when larvae cap their cells with silk. Wasps go through pupation for 8 to 18 days.|
|Adult||Pupation ends when the adult wasp appears, ready to fly.|
These development stages are a small aspect of what it takes to create and maintain a colony of wasps.
How Do Wasps Start a Colony?
Social wasps go through a colony throughout the seasons and end in winter. The lifespan of worker and drone wasps are significantly shorter than that of a queen, which can live for up to a year. She is the only one who hibernates and survives from the colony.
New colonies start when an existing one produces a new queen. This queen goes into hibernation until spring. Once she emerges, her main goal is to start building her nest, which will house her new colony.
How Do Wasp Nests Form?
Queen wasps build their nests with wood and other materials. They do this alone and start laying eggs once there are cells to put them in. A queen is fertilized prior to hibernation and is able to lay eggs throughout the whole next year.
Sometimes a female wasp will try to steal the nest of another, and fights will occur between two queens to determine who can possess that nest. This is the reason that some small wasp nests are abandoned early on and do not become a full working nest.
As the new hatch of wasps starts to emerge from the growing nest, they continue to build upon the nest and secure it. Worker wasps retrieve food for the rest of the colony, but they do not have the enzymes needed to digest most food. Thus the food goes to other worker wasps who feed the larvae, and the larvae, in turn, regurgitate food that feeds the worker wasps.
The old queen and the entire colony die as winter approaches. They are survived by the remaining queens, which find tree bark to hibernate. Each colony produces about one to two thousand queen bees each season. These queens then keep themselves and the eggs warm throughout the winter until it is time to wake in the spring.
What Are the Time Sequences of a Colony?
The colony starts, expands, and ends at certain seasons in the year. These are all driven by the life cycle of the queen wasp, as the worker and drone wasps hatch and die throughout the year.
- Spring: The queen comes out of hibernation and begins building a nest to lay her eggs. She looks for a dark and dry place, and she starts building a honeycomb-like structure with saliva and wood fibre.
- Summer: Once the queen has laid eggs and has a few mature worker wasps to help her, she stays within the nest. Colonies expand while worker wasps help the queen build, feed larvae, and collect food sources.
- Fall: In the late summer and early fall, the nest starts producing fertile wasps: the male drones and female queens. The new queens can stay in the nest and gain weight for winter, but the drones are evicted and then wait for a chance to mate with a queen. The colony dies off, and the young, fertilized queen wasps go to find a place to hibernate for winter.
- Winter: During the colony’s death, new queens go into hibernation. The nest breaks up entirely, but the new queens generally survive hibernation to re-emerge in the spring.
From the start of a queen wasp building her nest to her death, the colony lasts for about 9to 10 months. Each worker and drone wasp lives for about two to four weeks, while queens survive up to a year. Once an old queen dies in autumn, her life cycle ends, and so does that of her colony.
There are some wasps in New Zealand that are able to survive the winter at a rate, unlike other places. In this case, the spring worker wasps start at a high level in the hive. These hives can grow to great sizes by the end of the second year of production.
However, in most colonies, the only surviving wasp is the queen, and she must rebuild a hive and worker force from scratch in the spring.
Wasps Can Die of Loneliness?
Among the wasp species is a combination of social and solitary wasps. Solitary wasps don’t have colonies, while social ones cannot survive without one.
Both social wasps and solitary wasps can die of loneliness, however, social wasps will have a harder time surviving alone.
Wasps rely on their colonies for food, shelter, and reproductive opportunities. When nests are moved or destroyed, wasps lose their structured way of living and go without proper shelter or food. Their already short lifespans are abruptly cut short when this happens. This is especially true for social wasps.
How Long Can Wasps Live Indoors?
A wasp cannot reach its full lifespan if it finds itself stuck indoors. They require their nests, nectar, and other sources for survival. Additionally, they rely on the regulated temperature of nests for warm or cool air.
Wasps may pass in a few days to a few weeks indoors. However, yellowjacket wasps can live a few weeks without food, so they are more likely to survive for longer periods if they are stuck inside.
The exception is if wasps’ nests are indoors. Lack of access to the outside is not the main contributor to indoor deaths, but the lack of a nest is.
The Short Lives of Wasps and Their Colonies
The lifespan of a wasp varies with its role. Worker wasps can live as long as 22 days; drone wasps can live a little longer, but die after mating, and the queen wasp can survive for as long as 12 months.
Wasps vigorously work to grow their nests and colonies only to see them die out in the winter. The queen wasps carry colonies’ bloodlines with them when they finish hibernating and go on to build a new nest. From there, a colony will work hard to ensure their species’ survival by preparing for new queens to be born and fertilized.
Each year, the queen wasps build their own nest from scratch or try to steal each other’s new nests. This is unlike their honey bee relatives, who use the same hive year after year.