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Have you ever seen a huge wasp when out working in the garden or visiting the woods? If so, it's likely you'll have spotted a queen wasp: the leader of the colony, a skilful builder and an egg-laying machine. 

What is a queen wasp?

The queen wasp is essentially the leader of the nest, and her main role is to lay eggs. She has bright yellow and black stripes, with a triangle-shaped head, a distinctive ‘waist’ and a sharp pointy sting.

Emerging from hibernation during the spring, the queen chooses a suitable area to build her nest, such as a hollow tree or in the cavity of a building. She then begins the process of constructing her nest using ‘paper’ which she creates by chewing up wood.

As each cell of the nest is carefully built, the queen lays an egg in it. After about a month the eggs hatch into sterile female adult workers, who take over the building and foraging, while the queen continues to lay eggs for the rest of her life.

Larvae then hatch, and are fed by the adult workers. They eventually develop into fertile males, known as drones, and fertile females. The fertile females will become next year’s queens. Both the fertile males and females then leave the colony to mate and find somewhere to hibernate.

As the temperature falls through winter, the current queen and the adult workers die and the nest is left empty. The hibernating queens will ensure the continuation of the life cycle when they awake in spring. 

How big is a queen wasp?

The queen wasp is very similar in appearance to the workers, however in terms of size, it is longer. Queens usually measure around 2-2.5cm in length, whereas workers measure approximately 1.2-1.7cm. 

Where and when to see a queen

The best time to see a queen wasp is at the beginning of spring and the end of summer. This is because the queen emerges from hibernation at the start of spring in search of an appropriate place to build her nest, and then later on, at the end of summer, the new queens leave their nest to mate.

Queen wasps can be seen in parks, gardens, woods and meadows. During the spring you might see them building nests in woodland, and during the colder months they will venture to sheltered areas to hibernate - maybe even your garden shed!

Tell us when you see one

Nature’s Calendar helps us to track the effects of climate change on wildlife across the UK. By adding your own records, you are helping us predict how wildlife will be affected by climate change. Register with Nature’s Calendar and let us know when you see your first queen wasp in spring. This is normally from late February onwards. This is a particularly valuable spring event to record as you will be adding to 84 years of data so we can examine long-term trends and changes for this species.

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Spot the signs of the seasons

Have you seen your first butterfly or swallow of spring? Or your first ripening berry or autumn leaf? Let us know what's happening near you and help track the effects of climate change on wildlife.

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