Answer: Male wasps die in the winter and colony queens hibernate.
More info: The winter habits of the 20,000 or so different species of wasps depend essentially on the gender of the insect. While male wasps die away during winter months, colony queens survive and typically like to hibernate in trees, either beneath some loose bark or in a decaying stump.
Nests Are Temporary
This is why homeowners will sometimes find decaying or disintegrated wasps nests in the eaves of their roof or elsewhere. While ground nests can typically last for decades or, in some cases in Africa, centuries, nests built above ground are home to wasps for a single, solitary spring-to-fall season.
Fertile Females Survive the Winter
It’s not just the queen of a colony that survives over the winter months. There are also various fertile female wasps, or potential queens, who also scatter and hibernate during the winter months. Amazingly, each spring, a new wasp nest starts with just one of those females or a queen. As the queen gives birth to her male wasp minions, they chew up wood, paper and cardboard to produce the paper-thin wasps nest material.
Honeybees Cluster for Warmth
By comparison, honeybees do survive during the winter, cold weather months, but only by clustering together for warmth. The queen of this species actually begins to lay eggs sooner, in late winter, and the offspring feed on nectar and pollen that has been stored for this purpose. As such, honeybees are the only type of bee or wasp that produces a perennial, all-season colony.
The Queen Will Ultimately Die
It’s important to note that it is not the same wasp queen who survives from one year to the next. Each fall, within a nest, large cells are constructed for a new generation of queens and larvae cared for with more attention and nurturing is dedicated to these cells. The new queens eventually emerge from these housing cells and mate, before seeking shelter for the winter. The old queen, for her part, dies along with the male wasps that winter.
PETA – Wasps and Bees, Retrieved November 17, 2010 from http://www.peta.org/issues/wildlife/wasps-and-bees.aspx
Colorado State University – Nuisance Bees and Wasps, Retrieved November 17, 2010 from http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05525.html
University of Florida – Yellow Jacket Wasps, Retrieved November 17, 2010 from http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/occas/hornet_yellowjacket.htm