Those wasps are still going strong

by Richard Jones

I was surprised to see that the wasp nest was still abuzz. A nest still this active in mid-October is not unprecedented, but I regard it as highly unusual.

WaspFriday, Saturday and Sunday just past were fabulous, and as the sun burned down it was a thrill to see so many insects still about. A very late speckled wood butterfly was fluttering about the allotment, along with a last few large whites. A huge queen buff-tailed bumblebee, was examining the compost heap; I guess she was searching out a suitable hibernation site. Every now and then something else would buzz past: rosemary leaf beetles, green shieldbugs and ladybirds were all very active.

I was also surprised to see that the wasp nest, two plots down, was still abuzz. At the end of the season, wasp colonies normally rather fizzle out. There is usually a little bit of activity from the last remaining workers as the new queens and males are emerging to mate, but this was still foraging activity at full throttle. There was the same constant commuting I'd seen back in July. In some years I've found queens already gone into 'winter' hiding by the end of August.

A nest still this active in mid-October is not unprecedented, but I regard it as highly unusual. It'll be interesting to see how big the nest is when it finally comes to a close. I'll ask if I can dig it up and examine the combs. I've only done this once before, when we moved into a half-derelict house and discovered an old nest the size of a beach ball up in the loft. There were too many individual cells to count, but an estimate of so-many cells per square inch allowed me to estimate that the seven or eight paper combs had once been home to over 9000 wasps.

Once the new sexual generation of males and queens have emerged, all the other wasps die off and the nest will never be used again; so it is always safe to remove an old one and dissect it. Unless, of course, you happen to live in New Zealand, where the European wasps, accidentally transported to the southern hemisphere many years ago, are confused by the lack of clear seasons. Instead of stopping for winter, they continue colony-building for two, three or perhaps even more years, creating huge nests the size of saloon cars with scores of thousands of workers. Let's hope global warming doesn't encourage them to act like that here.

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Gardeners' World Web User 12/03/2007 at 18:25

We have them all over the place. Been told that old fashioned moth balls, dropped into their run, are a deterent as they hate them...have the moth balls but haven't tried them, as yet, I imagine it would need to be dry weather and we haven't had that in a long time. Our dogs used to deal with them but they have gotten lazy in their old age. Then we got a murdering kitten, who would sit out watching the mole hills, waiting for a mole to appear. Used to find the bodies in the morning. It's a shame because they are beautiful animals but hell hath no fury like a gardener with a mole problem.

Gardeners' World Web User 19/10/2007 at 19:52

we had a wasp nest at the bottom of our garden in the lawn I decided to leave it be as my garden is 140ft long so it was well away from the house and my kids are all grown up now so it wasn't a danger to them. Yesterday when I went to check my compost bins I saw that the small entrance to the nest had been burrowed down by about a foot I can only asume it was the foxes that visit me every night.

Gardeners' World Web User 20/10/2007 at 20:40

Reply to Faith: You don't say where you live, but it will be interesting to see just how long they can survive in southern England. Since I wrote my notes the nights have been clear and it is noticably much colder these last few mornings, but warm during the day. It might take a much longer cold spell to first get rid of their prey, then the wasps will die off.

Gardeners' World Web User 22/10/2007 at 13:22

What is the best way to act when a wasp is near? I tell my children to stand still and it will fly away when it discovers you are not food! But they still squeal and flap their arms around...

Gardeners' World Web User 23/10/2007 at 08:29

Reply to Frieda: Flapping arms around is the worst thing to do. Stand still and they will ignore you. If you find several buzzing round, you might be in the flight path back to the nest so move sideways and backwards away from the danger. If they are up to it, put a blob of jam or honey on a plate and get your kids to watch the wasps feeding. When they see that the wasps are just after a bit of sweetness, they will soon realize that the wasps are not after them.

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