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Solitary, narrow-bodied wasps. Black with yellow or whitish-yellow bands and spots. They fold their fore-wings longitudinally when at rest. Adults are predatory, hunting the larvae of moths and beetles to feed their offspring. The female searches for a nest site, building a nest of a few cells and provisioning each cell with prey. One egg is laid at the end of a thread which is attached to the top of the cell before provisioning starts. After each cell is provisioned with several prey items it is sealed. Nationally: 9 genera with 23 species (including 1 species restricted to the Channel Islands and in addition 2 vagrant species). Often called ‘potter wasps’ after the form of their mud-constructed nests. Five of the genera have been selected for further comment.


The advanced eusocial wasps have an annual life-cycle in the British Isles. Adults feed on material containing carbohydrates such as tree sap, nectar, honeydew and steal honey from colonies of bumblebees. Over-wintering fertilised queens emerge in the spring and build a nest from wood fibres which are macerated and mixed with saliva to form a pulp. The nest sites but may be underground, or aerial under an overhang, in a hollow tree, in a hedge, or inside a building. The nest consists of combs of hexagonal cells which open downwards, and are surrounded by a fibrous envelope. The queen feeds the larvae on macerated insects and spiders. The first brood develop into adult workers. These workers build further combs and look after the brood hatching from more queen eggs. Later in the season new queens and males are reared. The queens over-winter and males die. The workers gradually all die. One species does not build its own nest but takes over, or usurps, a young colony of another species. Such a species is called a social parasite or a cuckoo. The cuckoo queen kills the host queen and uses the workers of the host species to rear a brood of new cuckoo queens and males. Nationally: 4 genera with 10 species.