Wasp Society Explained: What Happens When You Kill The Queen?

Wasps don’t die when they sting you; however, they can deliver several painful stings in a row. You might be alarmed to see not one, but several wasps are congealing and living together in a small to large nest close to your home. I would want to know everything about my new neighbors, how to get rid of them? So this is what I want to find out and have wasp society explained: what happens when you kill the queen?

When you kill the wasp queen, the Beta queen will immediately take her place. The Alpha queen is not exclusive in that most females can transform into queens and reproduce both male and female larvae.

Suppose you are like me and hear that all familiar buzz you either freeze, run or swat the air profusely. You barely make out the shape, but you know what you face: a wasp. I am by no means allergic to wasps, but I do have a very healthy respect for that stinger and the attitude behind it. Wasps are very different from bees in social structure, and below we will explore their hierarchy in more detail.

How Do You Identify The Queen Wasp?

Wasps tend to have a similar body size, and it can be challenging to identify the Alpha queen at first glance; here are things you can look out for

  • Larger body size – The alpha queen will have a slightly larger and more elongate body than the other females.
  • Dominant behavior – The alpha queen will exercise her dominance by beating her feelers on the subordinates’ heads or torso. 
  • Doesn’t leave the nest – The queen does not go out to forage; she stays in the nest to lay eggs and tend to the larvae.

Wasp Society Explained

In wasp colonies, their social structure is very different from what we might imagine. Unlike bees, wasps are very selfish. They do not conform to the hive mind structure and will, at any given moment, eliminate the current queen to take the position for themselves. So how do they then co-exist? Let’s explore:

  • Altruism. Wasps can recognize their next of kin, and their behavior towards their family is very selfless as they acknowledge the fact that they share genes.
  • Chemical signal. Through complex pheromones and chemical signals, the wasps can identify one another and the alpha queen. These pheromones also help them identify intruders.
  • Self-recognition. Wasps have developed a method of remembering interactions with individuals and storing their genetic patterns for future recognitions. This way, they are also reassured of their position within their complex colony.

What Happens When You Kill The Queen?

Wasps form part of what is known as social insect colonies; unlike the structures of bees and ants with a single queen that reproduces, wasp workers have a chance of producing offspring. They can supersede the current queen and start their own colony straight away or enter hibernation to emerge as a fully-fledged queen and produce male and female eggs.

With this in mind, should you kill the alpha or the most dominant queen of a hive, the Beta queen will take over her position and assert dominance over the Gamma female below her. The authority gets passed on through individuals down the ranking. Killing the queen in most wasp hives will not mean the end of the colony but its continuation. You can read more in this study here.

How Many Wasps Live In A Colony?

Wasp colonies tend to be much smaller than bee colonies, they have a different social construct, and their roles are much more defined. Here is a list of the three most common wasps you might encounter:

  • Northern Paper Wasp. The Paper Wasp can have colonies from as little as 12 individuals to more enormous nests of up to 400 individuals and 500 cells.
  • Bald-faced hornet. Bald-Faced Hornets are wasps that usually live in colonies of between 100 to 700 individuals.
  • Mud Wasp or Mud Dauber. The Mud Dauber is a solitary wasp species and will often only be a male and female pair that builds their nest together and tends to the young.

Interesting Fact: The Mud Dauber wasp has been responsible for three airplane crashes that caused significant fatalities.

Should I Get Rid Of The Wasp Nest?

As we have established, wasps are nothing like their stinging counterparts, the bee. Wasps can make decisions for themselves and have a certain level of selfishness that can tilt their loyalty towards the alpha queen at any moment. We have put together an article on if it is okay to kill wasps for more information.

However, should you attempt to get rid of the nest yourself, and if so, do you kill the wasps or destroy the nest alone and hope they leave? Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Pros

  1. Apex Predator. Wasps help to keep the insect population under control and greatly assist farmers and gardeners in maintaining pests like flies, ants, and caterpillars off of crops and flowers.
  2. Active Pollinators. Without the critical task of pollinating, our food supplies would become endangered. Wasps are very active pollinators.

Cons

  1. Getting stung.  Nobody wants to experience the wrath of an angry wasp. Getting stung is not fun at all, and apart from the obvious pain, the venom of the wasp can cause an allergic reaction in specific individuals.
  2. Phobia.  Many individuals like myself are scared of insects and especially those that fly and can sting. Certain people have a phobia or an exaggerated fear of a specific animal, insect, or place. The interaction can cause anxiety.

When Is The Best Time To Kill The Queen Wasp?

There are two opportunities you can take to kill the queen wasp.

Spring – As the new queen emerges and starts to build her nest, she will be the only colony member. Now would be an excellent opportunity to get rid of the nest and the queen before turning into a large colony.

Winter – The queen will go into a solitary hibernation, and if you can identify the location, this would be the most humane time to kill the queen and prevent the emergence of a new colony in Spring.

How Long Does The Queen Wasp Live?

The alpha queen has a life cycle that starts in the Springtime and ends with her death in Winter. Every queen will undergo the same life cycle.

Spring – The Beginning

  • After the hibernation, a fertile queen wasp emerges from her cell and starts looking for a suitable site to build her colony.
  • The queen sets off to build her nest with a limited number of cells; they construct nests out of the chewed wood pulp.
  • The new queen lays a single egg in each cell. These wasps will be reared as her first workers and also genetic offspring.
  • Once the workers are ready, the queen can lay up to 300 eggs a day. She keeps the young colony united via the release of her own unique pheromone.

Summer – Expanding

  • Rapid growth in the colony starts to take place as more workers are born each day.
  • In a concise space, the colony can reach upwards of 10 000 individual members, all working hard at constructing, maintaining, and expanding the nest and feeding of the larvae and young.
  • Towards the end of the Summer, the queen will start to lay a few fertilized eggs, which will turn into new queens and fertile male wasps

Winter – Slowing down

  • The weather will start to cool down, and the alpha queen will be near the end of her life cycle. As she dies, the colony will undergo a social deconstruction, and this will start to force the colony to divide.
  • The workers start to tend to their own needs and do not go out to forage for the young or the larvae’s food.
  • Male wasps will fertilize the future queens, and they will start to look for a place to hibernate for the Winter, after which they emerge as rightful alpha queens to their own future colonies.
  • During the beginning of Winter, the rest of the colony, the young and the remaining larvae, will die.

Helpful Tip: If you are allergic to wasps and or bees and enjoy walks in nature or even at home during the Spring when wasps are active, always have an EpiPen injection prescribed by your physician on you.  Being prepared could potentially save your life.

Conclusion

The idea of sharing living space with insects is a foreign idea for some and even more so when those insects have stingers and a bad reputation like the wasp. The importance of the wasp in ecology is placed very high.

As we explored aspects of the queen wasp, the conclusion we can draw from what happens when you kill the queen is that the colony will adjust itself and continue until the Winter ends their life cycle and a new queen emerges. Their complex society has guaranteed the survival of their species.

Hubert Miles

I've been conducting home inspections for 17 years. I'm a licensed Home Inspector, Certified Master Inspector (CMI), and an FHA 203k Consultant. I started PestControlInsider.com to help people better understand pest control and what they can do about invasive insects, rodents, reptiles, and other mammals around their homes.

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