After the ground thaws and the soil finally begins to warm, the multitude of invertebrates that passed the winter burrowed deep within the thermally protective bed of fallen leaves, rotting bark and decomposing wood emerges from their long period of dormancy. Among the many flying bugs that are currently working their way to the surface and returning to a life above ground are the wasps. After exiting their subterranean winter retreat, these often feared stinging insects explore the immediate surroundings in an effort to locate a suitable spot in which to establish a colony for the approaching growing season.
In early autumn, numerous females with a functional reproductive system are produced in each colony. Shortly after transitioning into adults, these females abandon their nest, along with the drones or males, never to return to the colony. The receptive females quickly breed and acquire enough sperm during a single mating encounter to last for the remainder of their life. Within a few days after mating, the males die, but the fertilized females often prowl the area for food before retiring for the winter.
The intake of food in autumn is needed to develop fatty substances partly used to maintain life in winter, but mainly to fuel their activities in spring before food becomes available. The intake of certain items in autumn also helps promote the formation of an altered internal chemistry that reduces the chance of ice crystals developing within their cells should the frost line extend below their winter resting site.
Most species of wasps are attracted to woodland edges and forest clearings, as open and semi-open settings typically contain the greatest concentration of nectar producing plants. Adult wasps feed on a combination of plant fluids like sap from trees and nectar from flowers; however, these insects also incorporate significant amounts of animal matter into their diet. Bugs that range in size from aphids and midges to crickets and grasshoppers are routinely preyed on by wasps to satisfy their demand for nourishment, as well as that of their larvae. The developing larvae, housed in the papery, hexagonal cells in the nest are primarily provided invertebrate matter for consumption, yet will also ingest small pieces of meat taken from a nearby dead animal carcass.
While bees have a body covering of fuzz to assist in the collection of pollen grains, the smooth outer exoskeleton of a wasp is better suited for visiting places where bacterial contamination could be an issue.
Throughout the latter part of spring and for most of summer, all of the individuals that emerge as adults in a colony are infertile females. These are the workers, and they quickly engage in performing the chores needed to sustain the colony, except for laying eggs. Once the first group of workers emerges from their pupa stage, the queen does little else other than lay more eggs in the cells of the expanding colony.
Killing a wasp during a summer picnic has virtually no impact on the daily operations of the colony, as most nests contain at least several dozen to well over a hundred workers to continue the existence of that colony. It is at this time of year when killing a wasp has a significant impact on the population of these bugs in an area. All of the individuals encountered from late April through mid May are queens that are the sole occupant of a newly established nest. In some instances, a wasp seen flying under the boards of a deck, behind a loose shutter, or into the space around an overhang or eave may only be exploring possible nesting sites and has yet to start her colony.
Most naturalists believe wasps play an important role in maintaining a balance in the population of numerous bugs and therefore should never be destroyed. Many wasps are relatively docile and only sting if their colony is directly threatened. Others, like the bald-faced hornet, (which is actually a wasp and closely related to the yellow-jacket) are quite aggressive and will attack if looked at the wrong way. (A mild exaggeration)
Around my house, I tend to allow wasps to live in peace, as they never bother me.