Wasps offer more than a sting in the tail!
Wasps have generally earned themselves a bad reputation. But despite their seasonal aggression, these insects play an important role in the ecosystem.

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.

To control the workers during the breeding season in spring and early summer, the queen secretes a special tasty substance from her body which the workers lick from her. This mix of chemicals, which suppress aggression, is continually spread among other colony workers as they make contact with one another, keeping the workforce busy and peaceful.

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.

Common wasp drinking water
Wasps taking advantage of free honey after the bee keeper removes a comb
Annoying as they seem, wasps play an important part in the natural world
But without wasps, the world could be overrun with spiders and insects. Each summer, social wasps in the UK capture an estimated 14 million kilos of insect prey, such as caterpillars and greenfly.
So perhaps we should be calling them a gardener's friend. And please remember, although wasps may cause us strife in the summer months leading us to question the point of them, these insects play a crucial role in maintaining harmony in the ecosystem. We certainly would not be able to cope in a world without them. 
Article by Kathy Farrell
Follow us on Social Media
Protecting wildlife for the future
Keynsham Group
Avon Wildlife Trust
Registered charity 280422

Email: keynshamawt@gmail.com