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Manitoba Museum

Bees, Wasps, and Ants (Hymenoptera)

Yellowjacket, Potter, and other Wasps


This family includes some very common and well-known wasps, some of which are regular wildflower visitors. Members of the subfamilies Vespinae and Polistinae live socially (like bees and ants), with adults feeding chewed up insects to larvae. The remaining subfamilies are solitary predators, providing captured prey for their offspring. Some species can be very aggressive around their hives, and unlike bees, females can sting repeatedly.

Representative Genera and Species:


Pollinator Life Cycle:

Queens of social species build nests in the spring. The first workers to emerge take over nest construction, gathering prey, and feeding larvae while the queen lays eggs. Males emerge in late summer/fall to mate with new queens. They, and eventually the rest of the colony, die off in fall. The newly mated queens over-winter and start a new colony the following spring. In solitary species, each female builds her own nest and provides for her young.

Rarity Status:

The status of Canadian species has not yet been assessed, and none are legally protected.

Physical Appearance:

These are medium to large wasps, most of which are black with yellow/whitish markings, or brownish in colour. The inner margin of their eye is usually notched, and antennae have 10-13 segments. They typically keep their wings folded longitudinally when resting. The first segment of their thorax is horseshoe-shaped from above and triangular from the side.

Pollinator Habitat:

Nests are often found in the ground, in/on trees, in wood cavities, or under building over-hangs. The nests are typically constructed from wood/foliage that is chewed into a papery material, although some species make mud-lined ones.

Canadian Distribution:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Newfoundland/Labrador
  • Northwest Territories
  • Nova Scotia
  • Nunavut
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Yukon

Prairie Types:

  • Fescue Prairie
  • Mixed Grass Prairie
  • Tall Grass Prairie
Yellowjacket, Potter, and other Wasps