When a queen wasp comes out of hibernation she will begin looking for a site to build a nest. She starts by creating a petiole, which forms the main stalk from which the rest of the nest will hang (like the petiole stalk that attaches a leaf to its stem). To produce the material from which the nest is made wasps collect weathered wood and plant matter with their powerful mandibles and chew it up. The papery matter is combined with saliva to generate a paste ideal for nest construction – even in awkward crevices and cavities, such as a roof’s eaves.
The next job for the queen is to begin construction on a small framework of downward-facing hexagonal cells that form the main body, which is used for brood rearing. After building the first cell at the end of the petiole she adds another six around that, and so on until the nest has grown to about the size of a walnut.
Inside each cell the queen lays an egg to create a starter brood of worker females. Eventually these hatch into larvae and the queen will stop nest building to spend about a month looking after these young wasps. Once they are mature enough to fend for themselves, the young wasps then take on the role of workers and resume construction. The world’s biggest recorded wasp nest reached a length of 3.7 metres (over 12 feet). With the workers now active, the queen can concentrate on egg-laying and rearing larvae.