by Richard Jones

It's getting to that time of year when wasp behaviour changes. And as far as most people are concerned, it's a change for the worse...

WaspIt's getting to that time of year when wasp behaviour changes. And as far as most people are concerned, it's a change for the worse. Since wasps don't have that many friends to start with, this is a yet further serious decline in their reputation. They are in desperate need of some good PR. 

Having spent the last four or five months diligently, but rather secretively, helping the gardener by eating caterpillars, aphids, flies and other insects, now is the time they start making a nuisance of themselves around the picnic table. There is a very good reason for this - they have nothing better to do. In the last few weeks, the large nests have been running down and churning out new males and females (queens) off on mating flights; but the resident workers (sterile females) no longer have a burgeoning brood of nest mate grubs to rear in the brood combs. Since it was the grubs that needed the chewed insect protein, the listless workers are now left to forage for themselves, at flowers, fallen fruit and jam sandwiches. 

They will not last long though. In the next few weeks they will all die off, except for those newly mated queens. These seek out dry hibernation sites in dead wood, loose tree bark, dry stone walls or lofts, pull their wings tight to their bodies and turn off their metabolism until next spring. 

Unfortunately, in the process of dying off the workers make one last attempt to satisfy their sweet tooth, and this is why they start paying close attention to cream teas and iced buns. It's no use me telling you to stop waving your arms about or flapping napkins at them, they will keep coming. The only point I'd like to make is that they are not being aggressive, and ordinarily won't sting you. This was what they might have done, earlier in the year, if you stood directly in the flight path back to the nest and they perceived you as a threat. 

On the other hand, don't be complacent. Wasps often visit carrion, so I'd never knowingly let them walk over my food. Our back garden is a bit short of dead animals at the moment, but I noticed they were paying particular attention to a couple of victims of the 12-year-old's sleep-over party at the weekend. Two dead slugs, seemingly crushed under the tent were being carefully examined by at least four wasps when I cleared up on Sunday afternoon. They're welcome to them.

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Talkback: Wasps
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Gardeners' World Web User 30/09/2009 at 10:51

The best way to deal with wasps that bother you is to make a trap. Take an empty 1.5 litre plastic drinks bottle and punch a few holes around the top. They should be big enough for a wasp to crawl through. Pour in a few inches of cider into the bottle, seal up the lid, then hang the bottle up, preferably high off the ground so it's out of the way. I hung one from the top of a flagpole at a festival this summer and it worked a treat. The trap will catch literally hundreds of wasps per day. They climb in through the holes, attracted by the cider, and can't find their way out. They eventually drown.

Gardeners' World Web User 01/10/2009 at 12:05

Very funny blog, Richard, thank you.

Gardeners' World Web User 01/10/2009 at 23:15

I find a liberal dousing of water from a hand held spray deters them from coming near an outdoor meal, but if they are really persistant it gives you enough time to decide if you are going to kill them. Incidentally, they are canniballistic, as I have regularly observed them devour their recently deceased relatives.Such is nature!

Gardeners' World Web User 02/10/2009 at 09:39

Having watched wasps for many years, not as closely as Richard, but it is fascinating to watch them diving in and out of the flowers through the summer. I watched one on the shed roof at my allomtnet recently chewing at the edge it made quite a noise. They nested in our attic a few years back and we had a wonderful nest that once empty the children were able to take to school to show the class! Everything has a place and purpose.

Gardeners' World Web User 02/10/2009 at 10:54

Thank you Richard for reminding me that wasps DO have a purpose for being on this earth - I used to know, but had forgotten. I do feel sorry for them; what a horrid way to spend their last days,unwanted in their own world and being hated so much. I prefer not to see them killed but to simply go away somewhere else. This year does seem to be the worst for wasps for several years. Thank you for the info.

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