Skip to main content

How Many Wasp Species are There and What do They Look Like?

mom and son playing soccer on front lawn

Wasps can be remarkably annoying, but they are an important part of the control of various other insects. Parasitic wasps, for example, are being employed more and more commonly in agricultural settings to control other insect pests. Wasps are excellent biocontrol mechanisms in agricultural settings because they have very little impact on the crops. Wasps are also able to function as pollinators in some situations and can play a very important role in keeping certain types of plants alive.

How Many Species of Wasps are There?

Among the 100,000 species of wasps that have been identified, most are parasitic. They can resemble some bees and be confused with them. They can also be confused with ants. Indeed, velvet ants are technically a type of wasp. Wasps may exist as either solitary creatures or in social groups depending on the species. A solitary wasp will live and work alone and usually will not construct nests. Social wasps in contrast live in colonies that can contain thousands of individual wasps. These wasps build nests.

All solitary wasps are fertile and can reproduce. However, social wasps that live in colonies often have certain individuals that are designated to reproduce while the rest of the colony has other tasks that are assigned to it. Some colonies have wasps that are all fertile and can reproduce.

What do Wasps Look Like?

Wasps generally have two pairs of wings and females have a stinger or ovipositor. The stinger is only present in females because it is a female sex organ. They do not have hair on their bodies, in contrast to bees with the exception of only a few species of wasps such as Mutillidae, Bradynobaenidae, or Scoliidae. The vast majority of wasp species live on land, though a few may live in aquatic environments as well. Wasps are specialized to prey on spiders or use spiders as reproductive hosts.

All wasps have an exoskeleton similar to other insects. The exoskeleton functions to protect the wasp and provide the body of the wasp with structure, much like the endoskeleton in humans. Wasps also have three body parts: a head, thorax, and abdomen. They all have three pairs of legs and compound eyes.

What do Wasps eat?

Wasps are parasites as larvae and eat only nectar when they become adults. Many adults may have predatory behavior and use other insects, which are paralyzed by their sting, as food for their young larvae. Some social types of wasps are omnivorous and will eat fallen fruit, nectar, or even dead animals. Yellowjackets, for example, are known to scavenge dead insects that they can carry back to their young. Some larvae in turn secrete a sweet food source that can be consumed by the adult wasps.

Do Wasps Pollinate Plants?

Most wasps do not play a role in pollination but some species do effectively carry pollen and contribute to the pollination of certain plant species. Figs wasps, for example, are the only pollinators that can pollinate figs, which makes these wasps extremely important to the survival of these particular plants. As such, despite the fact that wasps can be annoying and their stinger can be painful, they can function as an important part of the environment.