Ruud Klein­paste

Bug­man Ruud Klein­paste loves bugs… well, nearly all bugs.

NZ Gardener - - Content -

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.

Ve­spula vul­garis and ci­cada.

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