Friday, 9 September 2016

Something Bug-ing you?

Something Bug-ing you, an article on humans irrational fear of wasps. 

Picture of wasp feeding on ginger Lilly flower taken in one of my clients garden

It’s that time of the year again in the UK where wasp numbers seem to reach their dizzy pinnacle as they fly erratically in all directions in search of those last bits of food and sweet treats. In fact, much like humans, they are sugar fiends.  It was a client’s question as to the proposed locations of some bug boxes in a garden design I am working on that led me to reflect on the public perceptions of these much maligned and somewhat unloved insects
Further I have become aware of a spread in fear and dislike of bugs and insects in general, but more significantly wasps and to a lesser extent bees. Whilst international concerns focus on the use of neonicotinoids, with their detrimental effect on bees being critically important, there seems little, or no mention, of their likely effect on the rest of the nectar feeding populations of insects and birds. Whilst the focus is rightly on bees, due to our reliance on them as pollinators, this overlooks and forgets the very important role that other insects play in the management of pests on our plants. Whilst lacewings and hover flies are important and non-harmful species in this line up of beneficial to humans, wasps are also a very important addition to that list. Unfortunately for the poor wasp they have received a very bad and negative press, with most wrongly believing them to be a harmful pest, with little or no use to humans. As a consequence I find when I explain to clients that wasps are one of my favourite garden insects in spring and summer, due to the number of aphids and other plant damaging insects they can munch through, it is usually met with disbelief.
Possibly a large part of our human fear of wasps lies in their ability to sting multiple times, unlike bees who by virtue of stinging commit what is an act of suicide. However this fear, in the main, is somewhat hysterical and out of context. The important thing to remember is, despite what you may assume, a wasp is not actively looking for a human to sting, but busily trying to collect enough food in the early stages of the year to feed the growing colony back at the nest.

A few wasp (Vespula vulgaris) facts.

1 All wasps build nests, though their nests are different from the bees, which produce a wax substance to create theirs. Wasps chew scraped wood fibre, creating a more papery nests.

2 A social wasp that is upset emits a pheromone to other wasps, signalling them to come and help. Based on this, common sense would tell us to stay calm.

3 Mating takes place between young queens and drones inside the nest. At the end of autumn, the nest dies off leaving only the fertilized queens.

4 The fertilised queen wasp emerges from hibernation around the middle April to begin the search for a suitable nesting site.

5 A queen wasp begins a new colony every spring. First the queen will raise worker wasps to help bring in food and make the nest larger. Then she will begin laying eggs. A colony of wasps can grow to 50,000 in a single summer

6 Although a nest of wasps can contain between ten to fifty thousand wasps there is only one queen at a time in the nest.

7 As summer fades and the weather becomes cooler the workers become tired and aggressive towards anyone deemed a threat. It is at this time of the year when humans are most likely to get stung as the wasps, having done the job of feeding the colony, are now left to their own devices as they die off. It is usually human overreaction and hysteria which triggers alarm in wasps that leads to stinging. Best advice try to stay calm and rational using gentle non aggressive motions to shoo the wasp away. Chances are they will leave you alone and continue their forage.

8 A few common sense rules during late summer and into early autumn when wasps are dying off. Don’t leave sweet sugary drinks or larger in uncovered drinking glasses or cans. If drinking from a can always check that a wasp, or other insect, has not inadvertently gotten into the can prior to drinking. It is not unknown for people to drink from a can only to be stung in the mouth, or throat, by a hidden insect.

9 Although for most a wasp sting will be a minor and short-lived irritation, for a small number it may lead to an allergic reaction, causing anaphylactic shock, which is potentially far more serious. If your reaction to a sting is severe it is best to seek immediate medical help by calling an ambulance.


Last but not least.

For the most part try to be aware of the very important role that wasps play in the control of agricultural pests, which in turn can lead to a reduction in the use of far more noxious and harmful chemicals. 

All pictures and content are the copyrighted property of David Keegan © 2016

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