East Greenbush, N.Y.
A wasp is any insect of the order Hymenoptera and suborder Apocrita that is neither a bee nor ant. The suborder Symphyta, known commonly as sawflies, differ from members of Apocrita by having a broader connection between the mesosoma and metasoma. In addition to this, Symphyta larvae are mostly herbivorous and “caterpillarlike”, whereas those of Apocrita are largely predatory or “parasitic” (technically known as parasitoid).
The most familiar wasps belong to Aculeata, a division of Apocrita, whose ovipositors are adapted into a venomous stinger, though a great many species do not sting. Aculeata also contains ants and bees, and many wasps are commonly mistaken for bees, and vice-versa. In a similar respect, insects called “velvet ants” (the family Mutillidae) are technically wasps.
A much narrower and simpler but popular definition of the term wasp is any member of the aculeate family Vespidae, which includes (among others) the genera known in North America as yellowjackets (Vespula and Dolichovespula) and hornets (Vespa); in many countries outside of the Western Hemisphere, the vernacular usage of wasp is even further restricted to apply strictly to yellowjackets (e.g., the “common wasp”).
The various species of wasp fall into one of two main categories: solitary wasps and social wasps. Adult solitary wasps generally live and operate alone, and most do not construct nests; all adult solitary wasps are fertile. By contrast, social wasps exist in colonies numbering up to several thousand strong and build nests—but in some cases not all of the colony can reproduce. In the more advanced species, just the wasp queen and male wasps can mate, whilst the majority of the colony is made up of sterile female workers.