What are the stages in the life of a European Wasp?

1. Egg

European Wasp eggs are laid in each cell of the nest as soon as the walls have been partly built. Each egg is attached to one of the angles of a cell towards the centre of the comb; rarely is the egg attached to the base of the cell. The larva hatches from the egg in about 6–8 days.

European Wasp eggs

European Wasp eggs
Photographer: Otto Rogge. Source: Otto Rogge Photography

2. Larva

The larva grows by a series of stages or ‘instars’. To accommodate its increasing size, the larva sheds its skin at the end of each instar and grows a new and larger skin for the following growth stage. Five instars are completed before the larva encases itself in a cocoon. The larvae are fed and checked by ‘nursing’ adult workers 50–80 times each hour. The total larval development time is 9–22 days, depending on the temperature and availability of food.

European Wasp larvae

European Wasp larvae
Photographer: Otto Rogge. Source: Otto Rogge Photography

3. Pupa

When fully fed, the larva spins a cocoon within its cell using silk secreted by its salivary glands. Inside this cocoon the larva develops into an adult. This is called metamorphosis. During this time (7–9 days) the pupa is not tended by adult workers. Both worker and queen larval/pupal cells are produced. The queen pupal cells are much larger than worker cells. When fully developed the adult cuts away the cap of the cell and pulls itself onto the surface of the comb.

European Wasp pupae

European Wasp pupae
Photographer: Otto Rogge / Source: Otto Rogge Photography

4. Adult

In order for the colony to survive, the adult workers must perform a large number of tasks both inside and outside the nest. Workers start as nurse wasps, they then progress to collecting nesting materials and fluids and finally to foraging for solid food for the larvae; the older wasps guard the nest entrance. Worker wasps live for only several weeks.

Adult European Wasp

Adult European Wasp
Photographer: Alan Henderson. Source: Minibeast Wildlife

What happens to the wasp population at particular times of the year?

September to November

Mated queens leave overwintering sites (under bark, in log piles, even in folds in your curtains) to gather nectar and look for nesting sites.

December to January

The nest is established. Worker wasps take over the duties of enlarging the nest and feeding the larvae, leaving the queen to continue laying eggs.

March to May

Towards the end of the season the worker wasps build larger cells in which the next generation of several hundred queens and males is reared. When they reach adulthood, these individuals leave the nest and take part in mating flights.

June to August

Mated queens hibernate in safe sites. Overwintering nests have a reduced activity of resident queen (or queens) and workers.

Comments (6)

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mark 10 November, 2009 12:43
ban vespula vulgaris
Jane 24 August, 2010 15:21
Would appreciate details on wasp habitat, ie. what their preferred conditions are, especially inground.
Discovery Centre 25 August, 2010 15:48

Hi Jane, we have a great mini website on European Wasps with information about topics including nests, lifecycles and more.

Margarita James 14 October, 2014 20:27
I am trying it identify a pupa/larva thin that a magpie has dropped in front of me. It looks like a cocoon and when you open it it has bright yellow blind looking wormlike thing but they do have eye spots. The magpie seemed to have trouble swallowing this thin as if it's crop cannot cope with it.
Paul Jones 5 February, 2017 10:00
I think you need to correct the headings December to January as this is when Mated queens hibernate in safe sites. Overwintering nests have a reduced activity of resident queen (or queens) and workers.
Discovery Centre 7 February, 2017 13:39
Hi Paul, thanks for your comment. You are certainly correct if we are looking at the European Wasp in Europe in December and January but the information here is written in the context of Australia. So December and January is summer here and nest activity will be high.
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