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Wicklow Mountains National Park

Wasps and Bees

Wasps and bees have particularly fascinating life styles; many are social and form large colonies. In woodland areas, enormous, scary-looking - but harmless - Giant Wood Wasps may be found. Below are profiles of the Giant Wood Wasp, the Bumblebee and Gall Wasps which are all found in the Park.

GIANT WOOD WASP (Urocerus gigas)

The sight of a large female Giant Wood Wasp in summer is enough to send any visitor running back to the car. In fact, she is completely harmless - the long 'stinger' is in fact an ovipositor and is used to lay eggs deep into the wood of trees. The larvae feed on the wood. They like spruce trees best, so coniferous forests are the place to look for these beauties. The males are slightly smaller, have a brown abdomen instead of a yellow and black one, and do not have an ovipositor. In fact, you could be forgiven for thinking that they are a totally different species.

BUMBLEBEE (Bombus spp.)

There are many different species of bumblebee. All are furry social insects with distinctive markings. Only the fertilised queen survives the winter. In the spring she finds a suitable nest-site, usually low down in a hedge. There she lays eggs and within three weeks, the first workers are on the wing. The queen now stays at home and lays the eggs whilst the workers busy themselves collecting pollen to feed the colony. In late summer, new queens and males hatch and mate. As autumn arrives, the colony dies, leaving only the new queens to find somewhere safe to hibernate. Bumblebees do have a sting, but they are remarkably gentle and are unlikely to use the sting unless severely provoked.


You may see some strange growths on the oak trees in the Park. These are caused by the larvae of Gall Wasps as they parasitise the trees. There are two common species - the Spangle Gall Wasp (Neuroterus quercus-baccarum) and the Cherry Gall Wasp (Cynips quercusfolii). The Spangle galls are the small flat ones that lie flat on the back of an oak leaf, and look a little like party glitter. The Cherry galls are large round balls about the size of a marble, and usually found singly.

The adult gall wasps are tiny ant-like creatures. In spring, female wasps lay their eggs singly into the leaves, and inject a fluid which makes the gall grow. The maggoty little grub is protected in his gall until he emerges as an adult in late summer.