Bugman Ruud Kleinpaste loves bugs… well, nearly all bugs.
Our Bugman loves all bugs… well, except wasps. Here’s why.
iWe’re only just starting to discover how invertebrates operate on our planet, thereby giving us ideas of how we, too, can sustainably live on Earth.
am often accused of liking, no, loving, all invertebrates on the planet. There’s something to be said for that. Each species has its job to do and in scientific parlance, it is described as “delivering ecosystem services”.
Insects tend to be great at pollinating flowers, or composting organic materials, transforming dead wood into humus and thus creating habitat for other organisms.
Some invertebrates specialise in breaking down excrement of mammals, birds, lizards and insects. Imagine what the world would look like without these dung-removing critters and fungi.
More importantly, how would you get to work, to school, to the garden shed, with four feet of stinking poo over the land?
Predatory critters deliver a great ecosystem service: they keep the populations of their prey in balance. We gardeners know that as a form of biological control.
Some of our most interesting and efficient predators are species we see quite often and generally treat with some distrust: big, bitey centipedes, wasps and spiders – yes the venomous ones with a reputation to hurt us.
They all have their own fascinating stories of adaptation and technology. We’re only just starting to discover how invertebrates operate on our planet, thereby giving us some ideas and examples of how we, too, can sustainably live on Earth.
Whether or not we love, like or dislike a particular species usually depends on a number of different, often highly personal (if not psychological) parameters. Yep – I have those too: I don’t like being bitten by mosquitoes (it disturbs my sleep!), nor will I ever forget having a paralysed arm after a bite from our native giant centipede.
To be quite honest, there’s a far more scientific way we can separate the “goodies” from the “baddies” in our garden and also our Nature. Just ask the questions: Is it a native? Does it comfortably fit into our ecological systems? Is it a welcome species?
The current Predator Free New Zealand projects are focused on eliminating the main unwelcome species from our country – the usual suspects: stoats (mustelids), rodents, hedgehogs, possums and feral cats, to name but a few. Unfortunately, so far, wasps are missing from the suite of targets.
I’m talking about the two species that are our biggest bother: the German wasp ( Vespula germanica) and the so-called common wasp ( Vespula vulgaris). Both are social species and by now, distributed throughout New Zealand.
These wasps nest in hollow trees or inside your wall cavity. I’ve seen huge nests underground, excavated from the clay soils in forests, parks and gardens.
Summer is the time you’ll find numerous clay pellets on the pavers and on the shiny paintwork of your car. This is because the workers simply gather water from a stream or puddle to soften the clay at the excavation site, then cut out a pellet and fly away with that.
Imagine that with thousands of wasps working away in a forest and spreading that soil over large areas, and you’ll realise this could well have a bit of an impact on the spread of, say, kauri dieback. There are many other examples of how these wasps are an absolute pain in the proverbial. Just ask trampers, people that enjoy a picnic, farmers with hassled stock. Wasps spoil many types of fruit, rob beehives of honey and disrupt pollination services. They can be a medical threat to people and domestic animals, and consume large quantities of our native insects such as butterflies and caterpillars. I have seen them in an impressive, collaborative attack on a native giant dragonfly in the West Auckland bush, carting the dragonfly away in convenient cuts of protein to feed the larvae in the nest. The same happens to native birds, especially the young ones in the nest. The estimated cost of wasp damage in New Zealand runs into the hundreds of millions of dollars each year, and I hereby propose that we have a crack at these exotic and invasive brutes under our Predator Free plan. We can do it, I reckon! Scientists are working on gene silencing and pheromone techniques, but meanwhile, we already have an excellent and proven bait we can use: Vespex, which is available from Merchento to approved users.
Vespula vulgaris and cicada.