You may have wondered if those wasps flying around your picnic are male or female.
The vast majority of wasps are female. Male wasp’s only function is to mate with queens. They have short life cycles and out of a colony of 5000 wasps, only a few hundred will be male. Male wasps can not sting and hunting and protection are roles only fulfilled by female wasps.
let’s take a closer look at the difference between male and female wasps.
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Are most wasps male or female?
The vast majority of wasps are female. So much so the chances are you have never seen a male a wasp. Female wasps do all the work that brings them into contact with people. They forage for food to feed the developing wasp larvae in their nests, they protect the nests from threats and scrape wood used to make their paper nests. A wasp colony of 5000 may only have a few hundred males.
What role do male wasps have?
Male wasps only have one role. Their role is to mate with queen wasps. Once they have fulfilled that role they will die. Typically this may mean a lifespan for male wasps of as little as 4 days.
Male wasps leave the nests almost as soon as they mature and will never return. They fly away from a nest and congregate, flying in groups of a few hundred, often above trees. This behavior is rarely if ever seen by people. The new wasp queens will mate with the males in what is a very quick affair.
When do wasps mate?
This mating action between wasps predominantly takes place in Autumn, just before winter when the wasp colonies die out. The new queens once mated will be ready to hibernate for the winter. Then in the spring when she emerges from hibernation she will use the sperm to produce a new batch of female wasps that will begin the process of a new colony from scratch in the spring. See this article.
Can all wasps sting?
Only female wasps can sting. The sting is part of the female reproductive organs. While queen wasps will ultimately lay almost all the eggs all-female wasps have these reproductive organs of which the sting is a part.
Male wasps do not need a sting as their role is only to mate with the queens and they have no hunting or defensive role, which are the functions of the sting. See this article.
Queen wasps can choose whether to lay male or female eggs
Fascinatingly queen wasps can actually select whether an egg will be a male or female. The sperm from the male wasps are stored in the queen and she then can choose whether to produce an egg inseminated with the sperm or not. An egg not inseminated will become a male wasp.
That also means that other female wasps that are not queens also have the potential to produce male wasps, as mating is only required in order to produce female wasps. Very few worker wasps will produce eggs that go on to hatch, however.
The queen wasp becomes an egg-laying machine and will produce thousands of eggs in her life span of about 1 year. The entire colony is dependent on her continued ability to lay eggs.