Time to tol­er­ate an old foe with a sting in its tail

Birmingham Post - - FEATURE -

At this time of the year ev­ery­one’s pet hate is wasps, which is a shame be­cause wasps are very valu­able in­sects.

There are nine species of so­cial wasp in Bri­tain, two or three of which have only ar­rived here in re­cent years.

The largest is the hor­net, a fear­some look­ing, but sur­pris­ingly docile, wasp.

For most of the year they all go about their busi­ness with­out caus­ing too much ir­ri­ta­tion, un­less they choose to build a nest in an awk­ward (for us) place.

They do like dark cor­ners to live in, of­ten a hol­low tree trunk or un­der- ground space, but some­times in a roof space or hang­ing in a tree.

They share a life cy­cle in­volv­ing a found­ing queen wasp emerg­ing from hi­ber­na­tion in the spring and start­ing a nest.

She pro­duces hun­dreds of worker wasps which then ex­tend and main­tain the nest and raise fur­ther broods of work­ers.

Through­out the sum­mer these work­ers feed the broods on all man­ner of other in­sects, in­clud­ing aphids.

This makes them valu­able pest con­trollers in the gar­den. In ad­di­tion, they feed them­selves on nec­tar and other sweet se­cre­tions, in the process pol­li­nat­ing many plants, mak­ing them dou­bly ben­e­fi­cial. The prob­lems come in late sum­mer when their nurs­ery du­ties are much re­duced. The new wasps emerg­ing then are males and young queens. They will mate and the young queens will hi­ber­nate be­fore start­ing the whole process off again in the spring. This means that there are lots of more or less re­dun­dant work­ers about just when we are spend­ing time out­side. They con­tinue to feed on sweet sug­ary so­lu­tions – not only nec­tar but also bruised fruit, and of course the jams and other con­fec­tionery of our pic­nics.

So, if you can, de­spite our clash in life­styles, try to tol­er­ate these use­ful in­sects.

Yes, they do some­times sting, but not of­ten, and only in de­fence.

Be­lieve it or not there is now an an­nual sur­vey of wasps in which you can take part. It is run­ning now, de­tails at www.the­big­wasp­sur­vey. org. Peter Shirley is a Mid­land-based


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