|[Note Guidelines] Photographer's Note|
The common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) is found in much of Eurasia and has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. It is often said to occur in Europe and North America as well, in which case it is called the common yellowjacket, but a 2010 study argues that the North American populations are a separate species, Vespula alascensis.
The common wasp is a eusocial vespid that builds its grey paper nest in or on a structure capable of supporting it. Underground, it often uses an abandoned mammal hole as a foundation for the site which is then enlarged by the workers. The foundress queen may also select a hollow tree, wall cavity or rock crevice for a nest site.
Adult workers of the common wasp measure about 12–17 mm (0.5–0.7 in) from head to abdomen, and have a mass of 84.1±19.0 mg, whereas the queen is about 20 mm (0.8 in) long. It has aposematic colours of black and yellow and is very similar to the German wasp (or European wasp, Vespula germanica) but seen head on, its face lacks the three black dots characteristic of that species. Additionally, it can be distinguished by a lack of black dots on its back (gastral terga), which are located further up and form part of the black rings on each of the abdomen's six segments. Furthermore, the genal area – the part of the head to which the jaws of an insect are attached – is usually broken by black (although sometimes narrowly).
Common wasps are colloquially known as "jaspers" in certain regions of England (such as Dorset and Lincolnshire, and more commonly the English Midlands), although it is not clear whether the etymology refers to the Latin name "vespa" or the striped abdomen, which echoes the striped mineral jasper.
The nest is made from chewed wood fibres mixed with saliva. It has open cells and a cylindrical column known as a "petiole" attaching the nest to the substrate. The wasps produce a chemical which repels ants and secrete it around the base of the petiole to avoid ant predation. A solitary female queen starts the nest, building 20–30 cells before initial egg-laying. This phase begins in spring, depending on climatic conditions. She fashions a petiole and produces a single cell at the end of it. Six further cells are then added around this to produce the characteristic hexagonal shape of the nest cells. One egg is laid in each cell, and as it hatches, each larva holds itself in the vertical cell by pressing its body against the sides. The queen now divides her time between feeding the larvae on the juices of masticated insects and nest building. Once the larva reaches full size, it spins a cover over the cell, pupates and metamorphoses into an adult. When enough adult workers have emerged, they take up most of the colony’s foraging, brood care and nest maintenance. The queen, who is now fed by the workers, concentrates all her energy on reproduction. The spherical nest is built from the top downwards with successive combs of cells separated by petioles. The queen larvae, known as "gynes", are reared in larger cells in the lower combs. The finished nest may contain 5,000–10,000 individuals. To ensure that only the queen's eggs are reared to adulthood, female workers will remove worker-laid eggs in a process known as worker policing.
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