Year after year, wasps seem to crop up near human settlements, bothering everyone with their aggressive nature and painful sting. However, wasps seem to disappear during the cold months, appearing anew in the spring.
If you’re wondering what happens to wasps in the winter or what do wasps do in the winter, you’ve come to the right place. Understanding where do wasps go in the winter requires learning about wasp nests, the wasp lifecycle, and how cold temperatures influence wasp behavior.
Do Wasps Hibernate?
Yes, most species of wasps hibernate in the winter to some degree. The exception to this rule of thumb is for wasps that live in predominantly warm environments, which may not need to hibernate to survive a cold season.
Most of the wasps in North America hibernate in the winter, though wasps in Africa and southern Europe may not.
How Is Hibernation Different?
Wasps who are hibernating have very low energy levels, so they are unlikely to sting you or to react to anything that is outside their nest.
When wasps hibernate, they block off the entrances to their nest and do not move around inside unless it is necessary to help sustain the queen. Wasps rarely eat anything while hibernating, nor do they lay additional eggs or hatch larvae.
The wasps stop hibernation when the climate warms up during the spring. At this point, the wasps open the entrance of their nest, and the queen can leave to form a new nest if she desires.
How Do Wasps Survive The Winter?
For wasps that hibernate, surviving the winter is a multi-step process. Wasps must first prepare the queen, then adjust the nest, and finally, begin their overwintering protocol. Each of these steps requires the residents of the nest to take a different set of actions to prepare for the winter.
Wasps Prepare The Queen
The first step in surviving the winter is to prepare the queen to survive the winter. To accomplish this, worker wasps predate on smaller insects, consume pollen, and eat small quantities of plant matter during the warm season.
Once a prey animal is dead, or pollen is harvested, the worker wasp returns their catch to the nest. Then, they pre-chew the meal, turning it into a nutrient paste. This paste is subsequently fed to the queen.
Because the paste is already pre-chewed by the worker, the queen doesn’t need to exert much effort to consume the calories which they provide. This means that the queen can bulk up and grow fat as a result of consuming more calories than she needs to survive and produce eggs.
The fat gained by the queen is essential because fat is an insulator that helps to keep the queen warm during the winter months.
Wasps Prepare The Nest
Once the queen is suitably fed, and she has enough fat in her abdomen to survive the winter, the wasps need to prepare the nest for the long and cold months ahead. To accomplish this, wasps store extra pre-digested food in the cells of the nest.
Thus, when the queen gets hungry during the winter, she can simply break open a new cell of food and stay fed. Because the food has been pre-chewed, the queen can derive a huge amount of calories from the stored food.
Packing the cells of the nest with food has another useful feature, however. When a cell is packed with food, it can insulate the nest from cold. As a result, when the nest’s external cells are packed with food, the queen has an additional layer of warmth.
Overwintering: Do Wasps Die in the Winter?
When winter arrives, the majority of the wasps in the nest will die of exposure to the cold while they are outside the nest. A select few worker wasps remain in the nest and cluster densely around the queen.
To help the queen stay warm and conserve energy during the winter, the wasps shiver violently to produce heat. Because the queen’s life is more important than their own, the worker wasps often shake until their body’s energy stores are depleted, causing them to die.
If their sacrifice is successful, however, the queen will survive the winter and begin laying fresh eggs when conditions are warmer.
Where Do Wasps Go In The Winter If They Burrow Instead of Make Nests?
Some wasps make burrows rather than nests. These wasps typically face additional challenges when they are overwintering because the coldness of the ground makes it harder to keep the queen warm.
However, these wasps have a strategy for surviving the winter. Rather than allowing the queen to stay in contact with the cold and dry ground, worker wasps create a small paper bed for the queen to rest on. This ensures that the queen can retain her warmth even when the ground freezes.