GET IT AWAY, GET IT AWAY.
You’re having a few drinks in the garden or at a family BBQ, when the wasps arrive and spoil the party. You haven’t seen much of them all summer and then suddenly they are everywhere, annoying everybody, causing panic and helicopter hands. Sound familiar?
August is the time of year when people start to ask ‘what’s the point of wasps?’ The answer may surprise you.
Did you know there are around 9,000 species of wasp in the U.K and Ireland?. These include the parasitic wasps, some of which are so diminutive they are like pin heads. Of the 250 larger wasps which have a stinger the majority are solitary and cause no upset to humans.
However, when we talk about wasps, we’re almost certainly talking about our nemesis, the Common wasp (Vespula vulgaris). To understand why these wasps became a real pain this time of year you need to understand their life cycle.
Common wasps live socially like bees but, unlike honey bees they haven’t evolved a way of storing food for the winter. The only ones that survive are young, fertilised queens who hibernate over winter. In the spring they build little walnut size nests where they lay around 20 eggs.
The queen feeds the larvae unil around May when they mature and become workers. Then she focuses on more egg laying and the workers get on with feeding them, enlarging the nest as they go. By this time of year the nest has grown and can contain up to 10,000 wasps!
Then in late August and September, the queen quits her egg laying (except a few which will become future queens and males to fertilise them) and no longer releases the pheromone that causes the workers to work.
Basically, these workers are made redundant, and are left jobless and disorientated. The problem for us is that, although adult wasps are insect predators, the food they collect is to feed the larvae not themselves. In their adult state they are not able to digest solid food and need sugary liquid to survive. With no larvae to feed they become uncontrollably and insatiably hungry.
Wasps love easy food such as over ripe fruit and your fizzy drinks. Towards the end of their brief lives, their hunger drives them to search for easy sugar at exactly the time we are more likely to be using our gardens and outdoor spaces. The timing couldn’t be better for them or worse for us.
So why are those who panic and try to swat them more likely to be stung than those who remain calm?
Well the problem is that the wasps have their own pheromone, which helps protect the nest from attack earlier in the year, and that’s essentially a chemical rallying cry to other that the nest is under attack.
So when you swat that annoying wasp it feels under attack and the cry for help will go out. Suddenly it all goes mad, and loads more wasps will show up in an aggressive ‘red-mist’ mode, fired up and ready to defend the nest. This is why the best advice is to stay calm.
Think of it like this, from May that wasp has worked very hard helping to keep thing nice in your village. Now it’s going to die. So why not give it a break, and put out a bowl of sugary drink somewhere out of the way, and let it go out on a nice sugar rush, at the very least don’t kill it.
What’s the point of wasps? Without them it’s likely that human life would not survive because in the absence of their role as predators, our planet would be overrun by even more damaging insects such as aphids, ants and caterpillars.
Every animal and insect is here for a reason, just like you!