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The common wasp, Vespula vulgaris, is a eusocial vespid found in throughout the Northern Hemisphere and has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. This species as well as other wasps of the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula are known in the United States as yellowjackets. Their natural habitat is dry grasslands and woodlands, but they easily adapt to urban habitats. As in other vespids species, V. vulgaris queens are the only member of a hive to survive through the winter, and in the spring each begins to build a paper nest in a hidden cavity, often subterranean, such as an animal burrow, tree stump, or crevice in rocks or walls to start a new colony. The queen cares for the first brood of larva, which quickly hatch into workers and take over the task of building and protecting the nest and caring for young. Workers live 2-4 weeks, and are replaced by subsequent generations throughout the summer.

Yellowjacket workers are predators on a wide variety of small insects. For this reason they can be very helpful in removing insect species that are pests of ornamental and crop plants, but they also can significantly affect populations of native insects (this is especially documented in New Zealand, where V. vulgaris is a significant pest species). Yellowjackets are hazards to beehives and cause significant financial loss in apiaries where they destroy the hives. In addition to preying on live insects, yellowjackets (as are most vespid wasps) are notorious scavengers, and will eat dead meat. They masticate all meat/insect prey and bring it back to the nest as food for their developing larvae. Adult workers themselves use honeydew and nectar as food sources. Because they consume large quantities they compete with other pollinators of many types, sometimes seriously disrupting natural ecosystems. Although they have stingers for defense, common wasps kill their prey by biting them rather than stinging. Foraging workers become a common, hazardous pest in mid-summer, as they scavenge around humans, eating sugary drinks and meats at picnics or from garbage cans. Vespula vulgaris can sting multiple times, and are fairly aggressive. Vespula vulgaris can be readily captured and killed in a variety of commercial and home-made traps baited with food or with synthetic chemicals attractive to wasps, to reduce numbers around inhabited areas. Insecticides can also be applied to kill nests.

(Bechinski et al. 2009; CABI 2011; Wikipedia 2011)

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