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A wasps nest

Queen wasps will build their nest somewhere that is dry, safe and structurally sound. A wasp may decide on a natural location, such as a tree, but some choose to build on man-made structures. © FCG/Shutterstock

Why do wasps build nests?

There are 7,000 species of wasps living in the UK, nine of which build nests to house a colony.

Like bees, each wasp species is either social or solitary. Those that prefer family life build nests to house themselves and their colony.

Social wasps

Most social wasps aren't particularly fussy when it comes to finding a spot to settle down and build their new home. All they need is somewhere dry, safe and structurally sound enough to support a nest.

They will settle anywhere, with some species preferring hollow trees, rock crevices or manmade structures. Some choose to nest underground.

The process begins when a queen wasp emerges from hibernation, as she promptly searches for a place to call home.

Providing for herself, the queen settles on a location and starts to build. She constructs using wood mixed with saliva. This forms a malleable pulp that is perfect for moulding.

The queen lays eggs into the hollow spaces - the cells - she creates. The eggs hatch and grow to become her first worker wasps.

When they reach adulthood, the new workers take over the responsibility of foraging for supplies and building the nest. The queen is then resigned to laying eggs for the rest of her life.

Wasps are architects, continually growing their nests to house the rising numbers of insects in the colony.

Some species' nests are large and elaborate, whereas others are small and compact. But each species builds homes perfectly suited to the needs and the size of their colony.

Watch as Museum wasp expert Dr Gavin Broad explains more about one of the collections' unique nests.

Solitary species

Not all wasps are social. Some prefer a solitary life and build simpler nests to rear their young. There are 200 species in the UK that make this type of nest.

Tarantula hawks are wasps with what is regarded as the second most painful insect sting in the world. They are found across South and Central America and in the southern United States.

These wasps spend their lives paralysing tarantulas, which can be much larger than them, and use them as a host for their eggs and larvae. The wasp will drag the tarantula to a specially dug hole, or even to the spider's own den, using that as a pseudo-nest, rather than building one.

Many wasps take advantage of fresh food sources in their natural environment, such as other insects and spiders.

Parasitoid wasps use other insects as hosts for their offspring, eating them alive and fresh.

These species are often used as a natural pesticide in agriculture, as the wasps' offspring feeds on or in the pest insects. This keeps pest numbers under control.

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