Queen Wasp ~ Vespula vulgaris
This is a Queen Common Wasp, feeding on some spurge (Euphorbia) on Newington Green and this is the type of wasp we usually see buzzing around our sweet drinks and fruit, or coming into our houses to hibernate in late autumn.
Queens are rather larger than males and worker wasps. This queen has probably just emerged from hibernation and will be looking for somewhere to build a nest before laying eggs in the hexagonal cells she creates. Wasps live in colonies, with the queen and males concentrating on reproduction, whilst the workers do all the work. By the end of the year, these colonies can be very large with hundreds of wasps in them. Of course, wasps sting, so don't touch wasps or their nests if you find one.
Wasps use their stings to kill their prey and both wasps and bees sting in order to defend themselves - so do avoid flapping at them if a wasp or bee comes near you and you will be far less likely to be stung! For most people, one sting from a wasp or bee is a bit painful for a couple of days but is nothing to worry about and can be treated easily. Wasps can retract their stings but bees cannot and leave the sting in the wound, which means the bee dies once it has stung - and the sting needs to be carefully removed.
If the sting is in the mouth or neck, this can cause severe swelling that can restrict breathing, so immediate medical treatment is required.
Just occasionally people can suffer from anaphylactic shock after being stung and if the person feels sick, giddy and looks pale or develops a rash, seek medical help immediately as this condition can be fatal. However it is only approximately 1 person in 200 that is allergic to stings, so this severe reaction is pretty uncommon, thankfully.
A word of warning about euphorbia plant as well. The milky-white sap of these plants is toxic and an irritant, so please do not let children play with them, or pick them.
Queen Wasp's Mask
If you would like to see her rather scary face, visit here: http://newingtongreen.org.uk/image/mask-queen-wasp
Thanks to Dr Martin C D Speight for identifying this as a queen wasp.
19 April 2010