During one of our recent walks we noticed a wasp nest high in a tree and my kids were thrilled to have found it. My children commented that we only seem to discover them in the fall when some of the leaves have fallen off the trees. The nests are well hidden throughout the summer. My children also noticed that the nests we find in the fall are vacated.
During this past summer our vegetable gardens and hydrangea tree were FULL of so many different kinds of bees, wasps, hornets, and flies. All at the same time. They seemed to go about their business without concern for the others’ presence. We wondered at the time where their nests were hiding and how far they had come to visit our yard. Considering all of this has led to many questions: Where did they go? Will they come back to the same nest in the spring? Do they even survive the winter? Do their nests not provide enough protection during the winter months?
Last winter we learned about how different types of animals survive winter. You can read about it in our post “Hibernate, Cluster, Burrow, Freeze: How Animals Survive Winter’s Chill“. It includes links to resources for children as well as related crafts and activities. But this time we wanted to learn more specifically about pollinator insects. Here’s what we’ve learned:
- There are many different insect pollinators.
- Hornets are a type of wasp. Wasps and bees belong to the Hymenoptera family of insects.
- Wasps can be categorized in to two main sub-groups: solitary and social. Most wasps are solitary. Learn more about them here and here.
- Bees and wasps both appear to have a waist. Wasps’ “waists” (called a petiole), however, are very thin and clearly separate the abdomen from the thorax.
- Worker wasps and most types of worker bees die in the winter while the fertilized queens hibernate in a protected spot, awakening in the spring to start a new colony.
- The queen wasps and bees will begin a new nest in the spring. The old nests will be left behind to deteriorate.
- Honey bees can survive the winter by huddling together to keep warm.
- Some lucky flies can winter over in a house or other warm shelter but most die in the cold months. Their larvae and pupae survive, however, to hatch in the spring.
And here are some books to check out that look at the difference between wasps and bees:
- Bees and Wasps by Usborne
- Animal Lives: Bees and Wasps
- Can You Tell a Bee From a Wasp? by Buffy Silverman
I hope these resources give you and your child a good start on exploring this topic.