WASPS! by Colette O’Connell
This is the time of year when the public takes note of an increase in the number of wasps coming into their homes. Queens have ceased their laying and mated queens are looking for safe crevices, such as roofs (even roofs of beehives), in which to spend the winter months in hibernation before emerging in the spring to start their nests. The main populations of wasps are now dwindling; and with no brood to feed, and reduced sources of nectar, are hungry and in search of sugar stores on which to feast.
The common reaction by most people is to draw wasps to a sugar source, such as a jam jar with some jam in it, and water in the bottom third of the jar….hoping the investigating wasps will end up in the water and drown.
However, wasps have an important role to play and are beneficial to ecosystems. They are a valuable friend to gardeners because they control insect populations.
At the start of and into the summer season, wasps rely on a mainly protein diet to feed the young larvae in their nests. To ensure adequate sources of protein, wasps rely on the many garden pests, so disliked by gardeners, aphids, greenfly, caterpillars etc. In general, wasps eat nectar, honey, fruit, small insects and plants. Many of us are not aware of this fact, as our focus is on the wasp itself due to
its impressive sting, and the resulting pain.
A wasp can regenerate its sting within 20 minutes of using it. A honey bee will die after using its sting. This is because the barbed end remains in the wound along with part of the bee’s abdomen and the venom sac, as it tries to depart.
A honey bee stinging and leaving its sting as it departs.
A wasp sting differs in that it can withdraw its sting and will regenerate it after about twenty minutes.
A wasp departing after stinging its victim, seen here withdrawing the sting.
The pH or acidity of the stings also differs, so the advice is to put vinegar on a wasp sting and bread soda paste on a bee sting. It is important that one scrapes the bee sting from the skin as soon as possible to reduce the amount of bee venom injected from the pulsing bee sac.
Use a fingernail or hive tool to scrape it to the side. Squeezing the venom sac to remove the sting will ensure that more venom is injected before the removal of the sting. Garlic juice or a cut garlic bulb rubbed on a sting is useful to reduce pain and swelling and the itch that comes the day after.
The Architecture of the Wasp nest.
One must admire these impressive insects and the workmanship that goes into their nest construction; strong enough to hold thousands of their young, yet it is paper – thin and easily disintegrates when no longer in use.
The photo below shows a wasp nest that was constructed around tree branches, to ensure it would remain in situ, in spite of wind and rain and other unforeseen circumstances.
This nest had to be transferred due to its proximity to a house and young visitors.
Delicate discussions ensued on how best to remove the nest without breaking it and releasing its population of wasps. The tree branches holding it firm would have to be cut; this was a two person operation.
It was important to ensure that the queen wasp was moved with the nest, otherwise she and the remaining wasps would have rebuilt their nest and repopulated the spot.
Wasp Nest Being Collected
These photos show West Waterford GP Dr. Stacey, assisted by a Co. Waterford beekeeper, transferring a wasp nest to a location where its population would no longer be a threat to humans.
He was ably assisted by his young grandson, who was very knowledgeable about the threat of the Asian Hornet, and the risk posed by this predator to honeybees and other native pollinating insects, should it become established here in Ireland.
To see such a knowledgeable young man was truly heartwarming, but in this case, like grandfather like grandson perhaps!
Job done, wasps in transportable bag on the way to their new home…..time for a cup of tea now!