name applied to many winged insects
of the order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants and bees. Most wasps are carnivorous, feeding on insects, grubs, or spiders. They have biting mouthparts, and the females have stings with which they paralyze their prey. The sting can be used repeatedly. The thorax of a wasp is attached to the abdomen by a narrow stalk (hence the term "wasp-waisted"). Some wasps are solid black or dark blue, but most have red, orange, or yellow wings or markings. Stripes are common. The great majority of the 20,000 species are solitary, but one family (the Vespidae) includes both social forms (the paper wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets) and solitary forms (e.g., the potter wasps).
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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.