Wasp Anatomy

The Anatomy of a Wasp

Anatomically, there is a great deal of variation between different species of wasp. Like all insects, wasps have a hard exoskeleton covering their 3 main body parts. These parts are known as the head, mesosoma and metosoma. Wasps have six jointed legs, two jointed antennae, and strong jaws. In addition to their compound eyes, wasps also have several simple eyes known as ocelli. These are typically arranged in a triangular formation just forward of an area of the head known as the vertex.

Wasps have a slender ‘petiole’, or ‘waist’ that separates the abdomen from the thorax. Wasps have four transparent wings. Many females have a stinger at the tip of the abdomen.

Diet: Generally, wasps are parasites when they are larvae and feed only on nectar as adults. Some wasps are omnivorous but this is relatively uncommon, they feed on a variety of fallen fruit, nectar and carrion. Many wasps are predatory, preying on other insects. Certain social wasp species, such as yellowjackets, scavenge for dead insects to provide for their young. In turn the brood provides sweet secretions for the adults.

In parasitic species of wasp the first meals are almost always provided from the animal the adult wasp used as a host for its young. Adult male wasps sometimes visit flowers to obtain nectar to feed on in much the same manner as honey bees. Occasionally, some species, such as yellowjackets, invade honeybee nests and steal honey and brood.

Nests: All wasps build complex nests with many six-sided cells. Wasps make the nests with a type of paper that they make by chewing wood and plant fibers. The nests are used to lay eggs in and to protect the young.

Social Organization: Most wasp species are solitary but some live in groups (called colonies) and work together. Social wasps are divided into three classes: queens (large females who build the nest and lay eggs), workers (small females who build nests and feed the young), and drones (males). Every winter, all the wasps die except new, mated queens, who burrow into leaves or soil to survive.

Parasitism: Many wasps are parasitic. Some, like the scoliid wasps, lay their eggs in a caterpillar or in beetle grubs. As the eggs develop, they eat the doomed host animal from the inside out.