There are over 7,000 wasp species living in the UK, comprising a huge variety of solitary and social species. The majority are parasitoids, which have young that eat insects or spiders alive.
However, the most commonly seen wasps are the black and yellow social species, particularly the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris) and German wasp (Vespula germanica).
August sees increasing numbers of these social wasps invading our outdoor spaces as we have picnics, barbecues and drinks in pub gardens. They are attracted to sugar-based foods, and cause us to go berserk as we try to avoid their irritating presence and painful sting.
So why are they annoying us in late July and August?
Well, during the early part of the summer the queen wasp has control of a nest where she has laid countless eggs. It is the worker’s job firstly to feed the grubs that emerge and later to help bring up new “queens”. The workers at this time are collecting the insect prey which they transport back to the nest for their grubs. Instead of eating insects and spiders, adult wasps only feed on sugars from flower nectar and honeydew produced by aphids. Wasp larvae also produce a sugary liquid that the adults consume. When on the hunt for nectar, wasps can also become accidental pollinators by travelling from plant to plant carrying pollen, hence playing a valuable part in pollination.
However in late July and August, once the colony has reared the new generation, the queen starts to lose her dominance and the chemistry, keeping the workers quiet and obedient, fades. The workers are let off their pheromone leash! Life for a wasp becomes a free for all, with fighting frequent and rioting at the nest resulting in many casualties. Idle workers make for our picnics feeling bullish and uninhibited and now we are confronted with the unpleasant side of a wasp.