Wasps Without Nest: Reasons, Seasons, Danger (rarely known)

We encounter wasps almost everywhere in the summer and they mostly appear in small groups. But sometimes wasps are also traveling alone and you may wonder whether the wasp actually has no nest and what would happen to it. The answer to this depends on a few interesting factors:

Wasps are divided into social and solitary wasps, whereby the social (state-building) wasps always have a classic nest necessary to survive. Solitary wasps are loners and usually have a small nest, but do not depend on it.

There are some exciting exceptions to this because there are even solitary wasps that have no nest at all and also the social wasps suddenly find themselves without a nest at times.

In this article we’ll explain why and what it means for wasps!

Wasps without a nest: different ways of life

Wasps represent a species-rich family in the class of insects and come in a wide range of species, which also differs greatly in reproduction and thus in nest building.

Basically, they can be divided into SOCIAL WASPS and SOLITARY WASPS.

In summer and autumn, we encounter especially the SOCIAL WASPS with their characteristic yellow-black markings. Only two species are responsible for the majority of the sightings at Picnic & Co (German Wasp and Common Wasp).

These species live together in a colony and build nests in shelters and underground, which can reach considerable proportions and include many thousands of individual insects. Within these nests there is a clear division of tasks between the queen, workers and the drone.

Only the wasp queen survives the winter and starts building her nests in spring. As soon as there are enough workers available, she no longer leaves the nest and hands over the care and procurement of food to her numerous helpers. Her task remains the laying of eggs and running the state until she reaches the end of her one-year lasting life.

The workers are female wasps who are unable to reproduce and make up the majority of the state and take on all tasks (except laying eggs) within the colony.

Drones are male wasps that develop in summer to mate with the new queens on their mate flight. They don’t have any other tasks and die soon afterward.

Depending on the phase in the life cycle of the nest, the respective castes may be without a nest.

This classic distribution of tasks does not exist with the SOLITARY WASP. The female animals live alone all year round and are responsible for reproduction themselves.

Most solitary wasps also build a nest in order to raise their offspring in a few cells. These constructions often consist of a combination of clay and saliva and look like small “pots”. Small cavities (such as drill holes), abandoned insect nests and own hollows (in rotten wood) are also popular.

Finding wasps without a nest can occur in both the social and solitary wasps, with the exception of the social wasps that build up states.

But let’s take a closer look at the whole thing.

Wasps without a nest: when does it happen?

With the SOCIAL WASPS there are several phases in which wasps appear alone or no longer have a nest:

Wasp queen without a nest
This applies, for example, to the new wasp queens who retreat to a shelter after mating and wait for spring to arrive. When the temperature rises, they wake up again and start building their nests. Until the state has reached a sufficient size, wasp queens are traveling alone and do not (yet) have an adequate nest.

Drones without a nest
With drones, the phase without a nest is significantly shorter. After they went on their mate flight in late summer, their job is done and they are no longer supported by the colony. As “homeless” wasps, they live on for a few days and then eventually die. In this short time, drones are on the move without a nest.

Workers without a nest
The state of the social wasps consists largely of the workers who have a close relationship with the nest and are dependent on it. They are in contact with the nest throughout the season and can only be found alone in late summer/autumn.

As soon as the old queen no longer fulfills her task, the state slowly dies out. While the workers initially try to maintain the colony as long as possible, this task becomes impossible over time and the insects finally leave the nest to be left alone.

There are different groups of SOLITARY WASPS, each having a different relationship to nests.

Solitary (parasitoid) wasp

Basically, however, (almost) all loners also have a nest. They use this to lay the eggs and raise the offspring. The shape and size of these nests varies greatly and ranges from their own small pottery nests to gnawed holes in rotten wood. The size is not comparable with the huge paper nests of the social wasps and usually only contains a few cells.

Solitary wasps do not depend on their nests for survival. It only ensures reproduction. Should the burrow be destroyed, the wasps would simply create a new one and start over.

Solitary wasps without a nest are normal

In addition to these nest builders, there are also parasitic wasps among solitary animals that have no nest at all. These then use other insects to plant their eggs with a special laying stinger. The larva feeds on the host and finally hatches from it (which means its death).

Can wasps survive without a nest?

The survival of a wasp without a nest depends on the wasp species (social or solitary wasp) and on the respective phase in which there is no nest (or no longer). In social wasps, nest loss (mostly) means death, while solitary wasps are not affected.

With the SOCIAL WASPS, the wasp queen is on her own for a large part of her 1-year life and survives without a nest. This only ends when the nest has reached a sufficient size and the workers take over care. The queen then no longer leaves the nest, the wings often degenerate and she is no longer able to fly. During this time she is dependent on the nest.

Drones (male wasps) always depend on the nest’s supply and cannot survive without it. After the new queens have mated, they are no longer supported by the nest and die in a short time.

Workers are the core part of a nest and have different tasks. Basically, they are able to look for and ingest food, but they also do not survive long without a nest. This is due to the lack of protection and sociality, and limited self-sufficiency.

SOLITARY WASPS use nests for laying eggs and for brood, but are not individually dependent on them and can easily survive without a nest. They are able to get enough water and food and have well-developed survival mechanisms (seeking shelter, defense, etc.).

Which wasps have no nest?

Social wasps always have a nest. Solitary wasps have a nest most of the time with a few exceptions, whereby the solitary nest consists of only a few cells. Parasitic wasps have no nest (and are using a host to lay their eggs).

To conduct this, they use a clearly pronounced ovipositor (laying stinger) which penetrates the host and places the eggs. The host now serves as a kind of nest and provides protection and sufficient food until it hatches.

Such wasps occur regularly in nature but are also used as effective pest control. This occurs primarily in agriculture, but can also be used easily and inexpensively in private households (especially with clothes moths).

Are wasps without a nest dangerous?

Wasps that have lost their nests can sometimes be more aggressive as their survival pressure increases and they are now more compelled to forage.

This is especially the case in autumn, when the old queens of the social wasps die and the nest cannot continue to exist. Now the workers are on their own and come into contact with us even more (to find food).

Solitary wasps that no longer have a nest are no more aggressive in their behavior than before and have little contact with humans. They are therefore still not dangerous.

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