All wasps generally have an abdomen somewhat narrowed at the base (the so-called wasp-waist), a body with simple hairs (contrasting with the branched hairs of bees) and an ovipositor that may be modified into a sting. Most wasps have 2 pairs of membranous wings, although some forms are wingless. Wasps vary in size from tiny parasites, or parasitoids, less than 1 mm long to large predators 35 mm long. These insects are distributed throughout Canada.
The mud daubers (family Sphecidae) are often conspicuous. They gather pellets of mud that they fashion into nest cells and provision with spiders or grasshoppers as food for their young. In the same family as mud daubers are thread-waisted wasps, digger wasps, sand wasps and others. These too are predatory and catch a diversity of prey, including grasshoppers, true bugs, flies, ants and bees. It is the females of all these wasps that capture and sting their prey, then take it back to their nests where they lay eggs on the living but paralyzed prey. The wasp larvae hatch and devour the prey.
Included in the family Vespidae are the social wasps, which are perhaps the best known Aculeates after the bees. The familiar paper nests constructed by these insects house complex societies of a few dozen (eg, the open comb, paper nests of genus Polistes commonly seen under the eaves of houses and garages) to over a thousand individuals, as in HORNETS and YELLOW JACKETS. They are mostly predatory, but may often be found feeding on nectar from flowers and floral buds.
Such a large and diverse insect group exhibits great variation in lifestyles and habitats. Most of the tiny parasitic wasps are quite poorly known. They attack immature stages of butterflies and moths (caterpillars and pupae) and a variety of other insects, including beetles, true bugs, aphids and flies. The larvae of a few species feed on their hosts that have been paralyzed by the egg-laying female from the outside (ectoparasitically), but most feed endoparasitically after the eggs are laid within the host. Some, such as the family Trichogrammatidae, are so small as to be able to develop within a single egg of a moth.
Among the ichneumon wasps (family Ichneumonidae) are larger species often recognized by their elongate and threadlike ovipositors. As a family, they are very diverse in size, and most feed endoparasitically on caterpillars or pupae. Again, the biology of most species is poorly known.
There are numerous other families of parasitic wasps in some 8 superfamilies. The gall wasps (family Cynipidae) are not parasitoids, but live in characteristic galls on plant leaves and stems, in which their larvae feed and develop. It is the presence of the cynipid eggs and larvae that causes the plant to grow the characteristic gall. Often, a complex of other insects becomes associated with the galls and the larval cynipids.
Relationship with Humans
Author PETER G. KEVAN
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Biodiversity Website
A great information source for all budding biologists. Learn about biodiversity theory, natural history, and conservation issues. From McGill’s Redpath Museum.
An extensively illustrated guide to wildlife species found in British Columbia. Covers bats, birds, beetles, bugs and much more. Also features an insect glossary and notes about invasive species. A biogeographic initiative of the Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, UBC.
The Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes
This website provides information about the scope and contents of the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. Check the “Index” link for illustrated descriptions of various taxonomic groups.
University of Alberta's E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum
Check out images and information about insect specimens found in the University of Alberta's E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum, one of the most significant insect collections in Canada.
Aquatic Invertebrates of Alberta Online Textbook
An online guide to all major groups of Alberta's aquatic invertebrates. Offers illustrated details of the natural history of each group as well as tips on collecting and preserving specimens. A University of Alberta website.