A few weeks ago I was with my family at the Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, where I noticed a sign explaining that bees had separated from wasps evolutionarily some 140 million years ago. This sparked my interest in what separates wasps from their bee relatives and what other information there was to gather on this species of insect.

A wasp is any insect in the order of Hymenoptera, a sub-order of Apocrita, the latter of which includes bees and ants. While bees are herbivores, wasps are predatory and/or parasitic, either paralyzing their prey then bringing it back to their larvae, or laying their eggs in a paralyzed host.

Wasps can be divided into two main categories, solitary and social wasps, with the vast majority of species being solitary in nature. Solitary wasps typically construct nests on the ground and fill them with paralyzed insects which their young feed on after hatching. Social wasp species live  in colonies with a single queen, like many species of bees and ants.

Wasps nests can be found in soil, on tree trunks, hanging from the branches of trees, or as many have unfortunately discovered, the eaves of buildings. The colonies consist of one or more queens, (fertile females) drones (males) and worker wasps (sterile females).

A nest will begin in the spring when a fertile wasp will construct one and lay her eggs in it, which subsequently hatch into worker bees which enlarge the nest, and drones that perpetuate the existence of the colony.

Subspecies of wasps include hornets and yellowjackets, with one of  the largest species of wasp being the Giant Asian Hornet, which grows to 1.6 inches in size. The most common wasp species in Maine are hornets, yellowjackets, and paper wasps.

Though wasps are violent and brutal creatures, known for their horrific hunting habits, and vicious attacks on animals that disturb their nests (as my dog unfortunately found not long ago), these aspects are the very thing that makes them fascinating. They also serve as important pollinators in our environment and help control other insect populations. When analyzed objectively, the wasp is just one more creature filling some niche and exercising its own particular habits in the unending battle for survival.

Thank you to Brittanica for providing the information for this column.


The Liberty Library will be hosting five printmaking classes from 9 a.m to noon on Sept. 12 and 19, and Oct. 17, 24 and 31. Visit the library website to learn more and register.

Montville attendees at the Aug. 23 special meeting voted yes to creating community-owned affordable internet. Thanks to Jim Troutman, Jay Legore and Vernon LeCount for being the Montville representatives.