Today I was sat outside at a restaurant in PA, USA and watched as a wasp landed on a plate, went for a large piece of chicken, then spent a minute or so carefully biting out a fairly large piece (about half the size of the wasp itself).  It then grasped the piece of chicken it had cut out with its legs and flew off.  This scene was repeated three times before we left the restaurant (not sure if it was the same wasp) -- each time it ignored other items on the plate (nachos grande including beans, vegetables, nachos, rice, etc.) and went straight for the chicken.

I have a few questions!

What's the usual diet for a wasp and is it usual for them to eat chicken (and even choose it preferentially over other foods like nachos, beans, vegetables, etc.)?

Where did the wasp go with that big piece of chicken?  To a quiet spot to eat it alone like a bird or squirrel might do, or to take it back to a hive to share?

Finally, how do wasps eat?  I remember learning that flies regurgitate digestive enzymes onto food then suck up the mush, but it looked like the wasp had poweful mandibles that made easy work of cutting the chicken. 

What do wasps usually use those jaws for?  i.e. they presumably didn't evolve them to cut chicken into fly-away sized pieces?

Thanks!

Hi there,

So I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that this was probably some kind of social wasp, i.e. one that lives in a nest as a worker with many others, rather than a solitary wasp. This is because most solitary wasps are parasites as larvae, developing inside an unlucky host. However some social wasps will have larvae developing inside constructed nests and the workers will provision them with meat.
An adult wasp will drink only nectar, those mandibles you see are for attacking other insects, defending hives etc. and they also enable the wasp to cut up chunks of meat which it can take back to the hive to provision the young larvae with fresh meat!
In some cases the larvae will even provide secretions from their bodies which provide the adults with food. So that the adults can be being fed (albeit indirectly) from any carrion they bring back to the nest.
Hope that answers everything!

Many solitary species are also free living, and hunt for animal prey (in fact, bees are just veggie-wasps). Different species hunt for different prey species, and this will allow a large range of species to be present in a single area. Indeed, Ian Yarrow (writing in 1935) recorded no less that 35 species of wasp nesting in a sandy area of 5m x 5m on a Dorset (UK) heathland.

For further information of social and solitary species of wasps, visit www.bwars.com or (for North America) http://bugguide.net/node/view/15740