Wasp sores? Scientist explains why you shouldn’t panic over rumors of population increase
Late summer means barbecues, ice cream and parents counting down the days until schools open. Then comes a wasp. There is shouting and beating (mostly by the parents). Usually no one gets stung and the wasp disappears. And yet, we treat the arrival of this little insect at our picnic as if a tarantula were inviting itself to tea.
It is not surprising that we act like this.
Every summer, the newspapers cover us with headlines about the horrors of wasps. As a wasp expert, I am inundated with calls from the media at the end of August asking me to explain why wasps are ruining our late summer fun.
This summer it’s even worse. This time newspapers are making headlines blaming the heatwaves for what they call huge plagues of wasps invading gardens and claiming Britain is under attack by aggressive ‘German wasps’. These articles say it’s a bumper year for UK wasps, the wasps are in a mad frenzy and heat waves are to blame.
The source of information on which these reports are based comes from pest control companies who say that wasp nests are larger this year and that they are seeing a 20-30% increase in calls for “control interventions”. wasps” compared to previous years. .
Let’s take a look at the science behind it all.
What the research says It’s too early for anyone – scientists, journalists or pest control officers – to have proper data on how wasps are faring this year. Recordings are still submitted to official data portals such as iNaturalist, Bees Wasps and Ants Recording Scheme (BWARS), the government-funded Pollination Monitoring Program (POM), and the Big Wasp Survey.
In the absence of data, use established research on wasp ecology to determine how heat waves affect wasp populations. Warm, dry springs are certainly good for queen wasps that are in the early stages of nest building. This year has seen a warmer and drier spring than average, and therefore more wasp nests than normal will have survived this first hurdle of the life cycle. However, the hot, dry summer we are experiencing will likely have the opposite effect.
Wasps hunt insects to feed their brood. Our insect populations in the UK are not adapted to cope with this year’s hot and dry summer. Their metabolism and life cycle are out of sync with their food supply. It’s August and yet the flowers are dying and the trees are turning autumnal as they go into survival mode. Dead plants mean fewer insects feeding on the plants, which means less prey for hunting insects like wasps. I asked entomologists (people who study insects) on Twitter about their perceptions of how insects are doing in August. Three-quarters of 397 voters thought they saw fewer insects in the UK in August than last year don’t start sentences with numbers. This shows people’s perceptions, not the data, but it suggests that insects (wasps and their prey) aren’t doing particularly well this summer. Why, then, are pest controllers telling us that there are more wasps? Heat Waves and Wasps Wasp-human interactions are different this year due to how the heatwave has affected their environment and behavior. In a normal year, most people don’t notice they have a wasp nest until late summer, when the wasps are no longer hunted for the colony and switch to a sweeter diet ( your ice cream, for example). The shortage of insects means that wasps have to work harder to find food, so they are more likely to visit our barbecues and picnics.
Like all insects, a wasp’s metabolism and activity increase as temperatures rise, which means wasps that come into contact with people may be livelier than normal. But wasps only sting if you provoke them. They rarely sting randomly.
If a wasp arrives at your BBQ, stay still and watch it. Determine what she is looking for and offer her a small offering of food. You’re of no interest unless you start waving your arms and screaming. If you do this, you will remind him of a predator.
A serious problem Wasps are essential pest control agents and pollinators. Recent decades have seen widespread declines in insect populations in the UK and around the world, largely due to changes in land use.
This summer, entomologists are worried about the effects of the heat wave on insect populations: it is not wasp invasions that need to be worried, but a shortage of wasps and other insects. At a time when the natural world needs every ounce of support from us (and yes, that includes wasps, as well as other essential invertebrates like slugs, spiders, and other creepy critters we struggle to love), the alarmism that fuels people’s prejudice against wasps is irresponsible.
I was asked by a national television station to appear on national television this week to talk about horrific wasp stories. But after explaining to the broadcaster’s researcher that these articles had little scientific truth, they let me down with the words, “We might need someone who works in pest control instead.”
(This story has not been edited by the Devdiscourse team and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)