Life Cycle of Wasps and Hornets

Hornet and wasp species are divided into two wide-ranging types and nesting habits. There are social species and solitary species.

  • Solitary species don’t live in colonies. They build small individual nests. Only adults are fertile and can lay eggs.
  • Social species are those living in colonies and have advanced social structures. For advanced species, the only fertile bee is the queen. The rest are in the colony and are infertile.

Though these insects may seem similar at first glance, it takes thorough identification to differentiate the two. One of their differences is the reproduction and development cycle. Find out how each completes their cycle below.

How Hornets Reproduce and Develop from Eggs to Adults

Known as social wasps or social insects, hornets live in colonies. They build their nests and create their hierarchy. The cycle starts with a fertilized queen building a new nest in the spring. A new nest is where the queen lays eggs and is usually built high above the ground.

The first eggs laid are the ones that hatch quickly and turn into female workers. They take over all the important duties such as building and keeping the nest intact. Workers do all these, while the queen does its role to lay eggs.

Drones or males emerge around late summer. Males die immediately after mating with a future queen. Mating is done in autumn except for the fertilized queens. The cycle varies with species living in tropical latitudes.

The function of Hornets in the Nest

Queens are the ones dominating the entire colony and the only female reproducing. Workers are mostly female. They are the ones foraging for food, building the hive and protecting the colony.

Males are fewer in number. The role of males is to mate with young queens and die soon after they mate.

Reproduction and Development Time Frame

For queens to survive the winter after mating in autumn, they crawl and hide under the bark of a tree branch, soil, or rotten wood. When spring comes, she emerges and searches for a place to build a nest. She will then deposit the eggs that will develop into larva within five to eight days.

For the next twelve or fourteen days, the larva will go through five stages until it grows. The larva will create a silk thread that will cover their cell. After about fifteen days, it will start biting its way out of the cell. When at least ten workers emerge, they will take over the duty of the queen to gather food.

Duties of Hornets in the Nest

After about four weeks, the first generation of workers will die. New workers will continue to come out of their cells. The queen will stay in the nest and lay eggs that will become males and young queens.

Males will emerge in fall and mate with new young queens. As males die after mating, the last set of workers will die early fall. Young queens will look for a new place where they can hide for the winter and the entire cycle starts again.

The Reproduction and Development Cycle of Wasps

Wasps are solitary species. Unlike honeybees, they don’t reproduce through mating flights. They just need a male and a fertile queen.

Males deposit sperms in the queens. These sperms are stored in a tightly packed ball inside the queen. It will remain frozen until the next spring.

Only fertilized queens survive autumn while the rest in the colony die. This is why the cycle in every nest starts with one queen. Below are the three important stages in the lifecycle of a wasp.

Stage 1

This is the stage when the queen will build a nest and lay eggs as it survives the winter. Queens hibernating during the winter will emerge in early summer. A queen will immediately search for a place where she can build her nest and lay eggs. As soon as she finds one, she will construct a nest as small as a walnut using rudimentary wood fibre.

Stage 2

Each of the eggs laid in the new nest is fertilized one by one. This is done with the stored sperm in the queen before winter. The queen solely looks after the development of the first batch of eggs until sterile female worker wasps come out.

The workers are the ones helping in constructing and expanding their wasp nest. As more females emerge, they will be the ones assisting and taking care of the next batch of eggs laid and fertilized.

Stage 3

The number of wasps in the nest will continue to increase until the queen lays her last batch of eggs. The males and fertile females are then born. Fertile males leave the nest and mate with other fertile females from other nests. These males will die after mating.

Mated fertile queens will hibernate with the frozen sperms and the entire cycle starts over again. The queen usually lives for more than a year. It is rare for fertile females and males coming from the same nest to mate. Queens choose to mate with males from other nests, which contributes to genetic variation.