What Do Wasps Eat?

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: January 19, 2022
Image Credit Witsawat.S/Shutterstock.com
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Few creatures on planet Earth fill people with as much fear as wasps. These tiny insects can pack a painful sting, and a swarm can potentially prove life-threatening in certain circumstances. Wasps belong to the order Hymenoptera and look like a mix between a bee and an ant. Most wasps bear distinctive yellow and black markings and range in size from microscopic to several inches long. You can find them on every continent except Antarctica and in almost every kind of habitat. While some wasps are social, most are solitary and only come together to mate. Wasps feature prominently in history, movies, and music, and have long been both feared and praised. Due to this fear, many people continue to misunderstand wasps and the role they serve in the environment. For example, if pressed, many people would struggle to answer the question, “what do wasps eat?”

In this article, we’ll attempt to clear up some of the confusion surrounding wasps by exploring what they eat. First, we’ll start off with a brief overview of what wasps like to eat. Then, we’ll examine how wasps use their senses and skills to hunt and forage for food. Next, we’ll compare what wasps eat in the wild versus what they eat in captivity. Finally, we’ll end with a discussion of what baby wasps eat. So, get ready, because we’re about to answer the question, “what do wasps eat?”

What Do Wasps Like to Eat?

Depending on the species, wasps eat either insects or fruit and nectar.

The food that wasps eat varies depending on the species and the age of the wasp. Some species predominantly just drink nectar from flowers, while others are hunters and scavengers. Meanwhile, while some adult wasps are carnivores and others nectarivores, wasp larvae are almost exclusively carnivorous. This discrepancy has led many people to be confused as to what wasps like to eat. But don’t worry, this is why we’re here to help dispel the confusion. By and large, adult wasps are drawn to food with high sugar content or high protein content. They target a wide variety of prey and forage for plants and that can satisfy their cravings. To make this easy on you, we’ve identified 9 foods that wasps usually like to eat. These foods are eaten by adult wasps, their larvae, or both, depending on the species. The 9 foods include: 

  • Fruit
  • Honey
  • Aphid honeydew
  • Nectar
  • Wasp larvae secretions
  • Insects
  • Spiders
  • Carrion
  • Larvae

How Do Wasps Hunt and Forage For Food? 

Largest Wasps - Cicada Killer
Wasps possess excellent smelling and vision capabilities.

Wasps possess keen senses that help them hunt and forage for food. They have an acute sense of smell, which is reportedly even more sensitive than that in dogs. Wasps can identify odors using scent receptors in their antennae, which allows them to find nectar, dead insects and animals, and sugary food from far away. Their smell receptors often attract them to picnics, flower beds, and trash piles, all of which emit strong odors. Once they are close enough to their prey or food, wasps then rely on sight to hone in on their target. They can detect color variations, which they use to determine if an insect is an appropriate prey. Additionally, wasps use their hearing to figure out if insects are already serving as hosts for other parasitic wasps. Their sense of touch and taste also help them to find their way and identify tasty foods. 

Wasps employ several different strategies when hunting and foraging for food. Non-parasitic adult wasps spend most of their time foraging for nectar, fruit, and other sugary food. When a female is ready to lay her eggs, she will find a suitable host. She then stings and paralyzes the host, then deposits her eggs inside its still-living body. Once her eggs hatch, they will emerge and consume the hosts. Meanwhile, non-parasitic wasps spend most of their time hunting and scavenging for animal matter. These wasps are attracted to carrion such as dead insects and animals. In addition, they also hunt for live prey. Upon finding a live insect, a wasp will usually sting it with its stinger to paralyze it. It will then either consume the insect on-site or chop it up into pieces and bring it back to its nest. 

What Do Wasps Eat in the Wild?

Largest Wasps - European Hornet
Wasps enjoy eating fruit from fruit trees, nectar from flowers, and insects.

In the wild, wasps eat a wide variety of food. The food that they eat varies according to the species and the environment where they live. Adult non-parasitic wasps mostly feed on nectar from plants. They are especially attracted to blue, white, purple, and yellow flowers, along with plants like spearmint. These wasps are also attracted to honey and to fruit trees, particularly fig trees. Additionally, they will eat the sweet secretions left behind by aphids, known as aphid honeydew. Some species also eat the secretions of their own larvae, which provide them with essential proteins. Meanwhile, predatory wasps tend to hunt and eat a slew of different prey. They tend to target insects such as caterpillars, beetles, crickets, and aphids. Also, some species have adapted to hunt spiders. When live prey is not readily available, wasps will also scavenge the remains of dead animals and insects. 

What Do Captive Wasps Eat?

A Spider wasp collecting moss for nest material.
You’ll want to make sure pet wasps have access to plenty of fresh sugar water and insects.

SIMON SHIM/Shutterstock.com

At first glance, wasps don’t seem like they would make good pets. They are exactly affectionate, and there’s a possibility that they can sting you if they become aggravated. That said, some people enjoy keeping wasps as pets, both for the novelty and to observe their behavior. If you wish to keep pet wasps, you’ll need to know how to feed them appropriately. First, you’ll want to make sure your wasps have access to plenty of nectar. One of the best ways to simulate this is to provide them with sugar water. Just remember to replace the solution regularly to keep it from molding. Additionally, you’ll want to provide them with live prey. Small crickets are likely the easiest and most affordable insect prey. That said, caterpillars are an excellent option if you can find them. You can also provide them with fresh fruit or honey. 

What Do Baby Wasps Eat?

Fear of Animals: Spheksophobia
Baby wasps are usually born inside of a host insect before eating the host alive.

Thomas Hochreutener/Shutterstock.com

Wasps go through several life cycle stages before they fully mature into the fully mature adults we know. They begin life as eggs before evolving into larvae, pupae, and eventually adults. Female wasps will capture an insect and lay their eggs inside the prey. Once the eggs hatch, they will consume their insect host while it is still alive. Depending on the species, wasp mothers will employ different tactics of raising their young. Some will repeatedly feed their young chopped-up insects until they’re old enough to fend for themselves. Others will simply provide their babies with enough food to sustain them at once and seal them in a den away from predators until they’re ready to emerge. Generally speaking, the diet of baby wasps is almost completely carnivorous, consisting solely of insects like crickets, beetles, spiders, and caterpillars. 

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