Happy Fall to you!
Are you seeing wasps everywhere all of a sudden? Are they crashing your picnics, trying to steal your food, or hovering around you like it’s their job? Do you think they are scary or looking for the best spot to sting you?
In this episode, we take a deeper dive into the lifecycle of the wasp and find a greater understanding of their behavior. We also learn why we shouldn’t swat at them or try to shoo them away, and what we can do to help them and ourselves instead. We also find out that they’re actually pretty important pollinators and pest controllers!
Chuck Darwin gives us a new word that applies to more species than just wasps, Tito gives us some weird wasp facts, and Captain Jack gives us two important reasons not to swat at wasps.
There's a PDF to go along with the episode that has wasp pictures, and a wasp project that benefits everybody! You can download the PDF HERE.
If you are an educator and would like the classroom resource packet for this episode, you can get it HERE.
If you want to listen to this podcast with audio only, you can do that HERE.
If you want to watch this episode as a video on YouTube, you can do that HERE.
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Today, our focus is on Wasps. Why are we seeing so many all of a sudden? Let’s find out… starting…right now!
Welcome back, nature enthusiasts, to another exciting episode of “Nature Just Got Real!! I'm your host, K.B. Carr, and today we're buzzing with anticipation (insert buzzing noise) because we're diving deep into the fascinating world of wasps and their incredible lifecycle.
But first, I want to say a big hello and thank you to our listeners in Germany, who once again, had the most downloads from outside the US for the last episode. Also, for the first time, we had listeners in Portugal and Hong Kong. Welcome! And, again, the city that had the most downloads outside the US was Frankfurt, Germany, and in the US, Spanish Forks, Utah. You guys are pretty consistent listeners every episode, so I want to thank you personally. Get a hold of me at weirdandwackyplanet.com so I can do that! Also, if your class is listening to this podcast, have your teacher contact me through weirdandwackyplanet.com as well, because we have some classroom resources for you starting with this episode. That’s a new feature for this season as we go into more and more classrooms. Thank you so much, all of you, for listening!
If you are watching this on video, which you can do on YouTube and possibly other places, there will be pictures inserted here and there of the things we are talking about. But if you are just listening and you’re interested in seeing those pictures, you’ll find a downloadable PDF in the show notes. It may be helpful to have that to look at while listening to the episode so you can see them for yourself as we talk about them.
Let’s get started!
Okay, let's start with the star of our show, the wasp! Now, wasps are these tiny, stripey insects that love to hang out in gardens and parks, and crash your picnic. But don't worry, they're not out to sting you just for fun – they've got some serious business to attend to.
For instance, did you know that wasps are not just cool insects, but they're also essential pollinators? Yep, they help flowers make more flowers! When wasps visit flowers in search of nectar, they pick up tiny bits of pollen on their bodies. As they move from flower to flower, they accidentally drop off this pollen, helping the plants make seeds and grow more flowers. So, wasps are like nature's very own flower delivery service! And, wasps are excellent pest controllers. They love snacking on all sorts of insects that can be harmful to your garden. So, they're like the superheroes of the bug world, keeping everything in balance.
[Sound of a superhero swoosh]
So, here's the wasp lifecycle in a nutshell, or should I say, a "bee-line" (get it, because they're related to bees?). It all begins with a wasp queen, and she's like the boss wasp. She wakes up from her long winter nap and is ready to rock!
(Sound of alarm clock)
The queen wasp starts by searching for the perfect spot to build her nest. Sometimes, it's under your roof, in a tree, or even in a cozy corner of your garden shed. Once she finds the ideal spot, she gets busy making a nest out of paper. No, not like PAPER paper – she makes it by chewing up wood and mixing it with her saliva, sort of like paper mache if you were making it from scratch. Crafty, right? Or gross, depending on your point of view…
(Sound of paper rustling)
Now, the queen lays her first batch of eggs in the nest. These eggs hatch into worker wasps, and their job is to help the queen out. These are all females. They’re like her personal assistants, building and taking care of the nest, and going grocery shopping for food.
(Sounds of grocery store canned music)
As the days get warmer and summer arrives, the queen switches gears and starts laying eggs that will become new queens and male wasps. These future queens are the lucky ones – they get to leave the nest once they grow up. The male wasps? Not so much. They’re just there for the party – their job is to mate!
(Sound of party horn)
But here's where it gets a little sad. As summer turns into fall, around August and September, the wasp colony starts running out of food. No more little wasps are hatching, and the queen and her worker wasps won’t make it through the winter. They all say goodbye and leave the nest to die.
(Sound of crying)
But…do they die right away? No! That’s when we start seeing them crash our picnics and bugging us (literally) at outdoor restaurants and events. They are looking for food, because after months of nothing but work, they’ve been kicked out of their nests and colonies, and they are starving! Kinda like forced retirement without getting any social security to live on.
(Sound of booing)
Now, they’re only going to live until it gets colder, but until then, here’s how YOU can help them out and say thank you for their service with a little kindness. You can make a wasp feeder with sugar water so they can eat and relax a little in their old age. And, this helps you out too, because if they are eating at your wasp restaurant, they aren’t buzzing around you! The directions and recipe for the Wasp Watering Hole are in the show notes, so check those out.
But wait, the story doesn't end there! The new queens that mated earlier? They go find cozy hiding spots for the winter. They'll curl up in a leaf or under some bark and take a long nap, kind of like a wasp slumber party. When spring rolls around again, they'll wake up and start the cycle all over again.
(Sound of snoring)
And there you have it, the weird and wacky world of the wasp lifecycle! Remember, wasps might seem a little scary, but they're just busy bees – I mean, wasps – going about their business and helping out in nature. Be kind to the unsung heroes of the garden and thank them for all they do!
Now here’s Tito with some cool facts about wasps. Take it away, Tito!
Today, I’m gonna give youse all some weird wasp facts you can impress your friends with. Here we go:
First of all, Wasps are not bees: Many people confuse wasps with bees, but they are different insects. Wasps have slender bodies with a smooth appearance, while bees are typically rounder and fuzzy.
#2. Unlike bees, wasps do not make honey. They feed on nectar and insects instead. That makes them excellent pollinators and pest controllers because many wasp species help control pest populations by hunting insects like caterpillars, flies, and aphids, which can harm plants.
#3. There are many kinds of wasps: like 30,000 different species around the world, each with its own unique characteristics.
Some wasps are so small that they are barely visible to the naked eye, while others can be quite large, like hornets. Some even look like they're wearing little fancy coats with tails, kind of like wasp tuxedos! Hehehe, so cute!
In fact, Wasps come in a variety of colors too, including black, yellow, red, and even metallic hues. Some wasps, like mud daubers, create nests out of mud. They collect wet mud and shape it into small, cylindrical cells to lay their eggs. I feel like this is better than using their own spit, but maybe that’s just me.
Some wasp species, like ground-nesting wasps, build their nests in holes in the ground. And, some wasps, get this, are parasitic and lay their eggs inside other insects, such as caterpillars. When the wasp larvae hatch, they consuuume the host from the inside. Wow. That is scary, gross, and efficient at the same time, am I right?
And #4. Male wasps don't sting: They do not have stingers. Only female wasps have stingers, and they typically use them for hunting and defending the nest.
So the next time you see a wasp hovering around you, she’s a girl wasp. Isn’t she a cutie?
I’m Tito and I’ll see youse all next time.
Thanks, Tito! That’s a lot of different species of wasps!
Here’s Dr. Chuck Darwin with the scientific word for this episode:
Dr Chuck Darwin-
For this episode, the word is Eusocial-what is it and who does it apply to?
Eusocial is a noun used to describe highly organized social structures in which individuals within a colony have distinct roles and cooperate for the benefit of the group. For instance, eusocial groups have a leader, mostly a Queen, who is responsible for producing young. Then there are the workers who supply food and clean up duties and soldiers who defend the colony. It sounds like a human society, but Humans are only loosely eusocial since most females can reproduce and all can choose and change which jobs they do.
Many wasp species exhibit eusocial behavior. Ants are eusocial, as well as Bees, and two species of Mole Rats, who are the only truly eusocial mammals.
Use the word Eusocial in a sentence today, and impress someone with your genius!
Until next time, I’m Dr. Chuck Darwin, Cheerio.
Thanks, Dr. Chuck! The Naked Mole Rat also has its own chapter in the book Weird and Wacky Creatures 2. I’ll put a link to that book in the show notes so you can check it out if you want to.
Now, remember earlier when I said that swatting at wasps is not a good idea? Well, here’s Captain Jack to tell us why.
Ahoy Mateys! In this episode, today’s Ask the Captain question is Why Shouldn’t I Swat at a wasp if it’s hovering around me?
Well, first of all, it’s ruuude. How would you like to be out looking for food and minding your own business, when a giant hand comes at you for no good reason? Display some manners, please.
If that’s not enough to stop you, here’s something important to know: When you swat at a wasp, she can release a chemical signal called an alarm pheromone. This pheromone is released by the wasp as a defense mechanism when she feels threatened, which she will when a GIANT HAND COMES AT HER! The purpose of the alarm pheromone is to alert other wasps in the vicinity that there is a potential danger or threat present.
So, all of a sudden, instead of just one wasp hovering around you, that number could increase depending on how many of her sisters are in the area. Holy Toledo, you are now some sort of wasp magnet!
So now you know that swatting at a wasp can be risky, as it may increase the likelihood of the wasp stinging you in self-defense. Let me repeat that: SELF-DEFENCE!
Instead, try to remain calm and move away from her, as she is more likely to become aggressive if she feels threatened.
And there you have it! Next time you see a wasp, remember IXNEY on the WATSWAY.
And, if YOU have questions for me, just email me at email@example.com. I’m alwayyyys listening. This is Captain Jack signing off till next time. BuByeeee!
Thanks for that really good info, Jack! I am never swatting at a wasp again! And you managed to get some pig Latin in there-very nice!
Ok, episode recap: What are my takeaways from today?
What are some of YOUR takeaways from today’s episode? And, don’t forget to check out the recommended reads and all the fun things in the PDF you can do to both help retired wasps and protect yourself from being stung.
If you enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe and share it with your fellow nature enthusiasts. We'll be back next month with another episode from the Wild. Until then, go have a buzzing, wasp-feeding adventure in YOUR neighborhood!