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Wasps: Friends or Foes?

Wasps: Friends or Foes?

A statement recently heard, when a wasp descended
on an outdoor summer meal,

‘Wasps, what use are they?’

Wildlife

We all recall moments when we are sitting outside relaxing in the warmth of a summer evening, when out of the blue, like a German Stuka, comes a bright yellow and black insect looking for something sweet! Generally, there is then at least one person who starts to flail around, push their chair back to stand and get out of the way! The chair topples backwards, and everyone else is potentially put at risk from a batted wasp! And not only that, an angry batted wasp!

The WaspSo have they a use, or are they solely an ecological annoyance?! Surely not, everything has its place in the ‘fine tapestry’ of life! But even the wasp?

Well yes, for sure, they are a nuisance, but when you see one, think again! They are quite good looking, colourful, aerodynamic (especially compared to their cousin the humble bumble!), and are not really a threat unless aroused and frightened! And then, they’re only defending themselves!

So, what use? Yes, they can cause serious damage to ripened fruit (not their fault, it’s what they like!), but in the spring and early summer, they are an unappreciated and maligned boon! What with a burgeoning nest of young grubs to feed, the incessantly hard working female workers positively hoover up other insects in your garden, including many other ‘pests’, such as caterpillars and aphids. And the sting? Not for our benefit surely? No, to subdue any large and reluctant prey, and to defend themselves and their nest!

Not much of a defence I admit, compared to what could be described as an innate fear of these small yellow and black insects (spheksophobia). But you must respect their resilience to the constant and undeterred onslaught by those wishing for a restful afternoon in the garden! And no matter how hard I try, I also sometimes fall foul of the need to get away from or retaliate against these colourful and industrious creatures. But remember, what would your garden be like, your vegetable patch maybe, if it weren’t for the humble wasp…

Many species of wasp are solitary, but there are seven in the UK that form colonies, including the hornet. The most abundant are the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) and the German wasp (Vespula germanica). All are easily identified by their distinctive yellow and black stripes which act as a warning that they sting (imitated by a number of other less harmful insects!).

The queen emerges from the nest in the autumn and, after mating, selects a suitable site for hibernation. She then emerges late next spring and starts to look for a nest site. Having successfully found an appropriate site (underground or in a roof or wall cavity), she then starts to make a nest of paper from chewed up wood fibres, before laying her eggs – up to 2,000 each day once the colony is fully established! Following a larval stage and pupation, the majority hatch into sterile female workers, who assist in rearing new larvae, including new queens.

The needle like sting is possessed only by the females and is concealed near the tip of the abdomen. The sting is only found in the sterile female workers and is an evolutionary development of the ovipositor.

Julian Kaye
SEECV (South East Essex Conservation Volunteers)
Article reproduced with kind permission of the SEECV from the Autumn issue Newsletter.

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