More about Those Pesky Wasps - April 2016

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  • Cells showing failed larva
  • Macro example of banding
  • Nest showing layered construction
  • Wasp nest Showing construction

Wasps are fascinating creatures when you get to know a little bit about them.
The ones that we are more familiar with are generally the common wasps belonging to the family Vespidae and are known as social wasps. That is they live in large colonies.
The colonies only last for a season when all but the pregnant queens die off who then hibernate till the next season ready to start another colony.
She does this building a small nest by chewing wood and mixing it with saliva to make paper. The nest is shaped like a small umbrella underneath which she builds cells into which she lays her eggs.
When the eggs have hatched she feeds the larvae on pulped insects she has collected. These larvae grow into

workers which take over nest building and food collecting whilst the queen gets down to serious egg laying.
Further cells are built below the first one, each one attached to the one above by slender paper stalks. This can be seen in one of the accompanying pictures of last year’s nest which I dismantled so that the inside can be viewed.
There can be up to eight tiers or more surrounded by a shell of paper made up by shell like lobes each lobe is banded and each band is the work of one wasp and one load of wood pulp.
There is a macro image of this also in the accompanying pictures.
The holes between the layers of the shell are for air to circulate to keep the nest at an even temperature sometimes assisted by the workers fanning at the entrance with their wings.
Some of these nests can produce up to 20,000 individuals during a season, although they are not all alive at the same time. It is interesting to note that all of these individuals will have been reared on insects collected in the field, a lot of which are harmful to the garden. So maybe it’s not always good idea to kill queens in the spring.
The queen is the largest of the three types of wasp in the nest, the second largest is the male that appears later in the season and finally the workers who incidentally are all female.
Wasps like sweet things, and feed on nectar and sweet saliva that the grubs produce in excess amounts, they do this using their tongues and feeding tubes. They don’t eat solid food as their jaws are not designed for eating but scraping wood and paper and chewing insects to pulp for the young.
Most of the season the adults are too busy collecting insects for the young to be much of a nuisance to us.
Towards the end of the season, the wasps rear males and females in special large cells, when these mature the females are virgin queens ready to be mated. Both the male and females leave the nest to mate with individuals from other colonies. The queens then find a place to hibernate over the winter and start the whole cycle over again in the spring.
The workers that are left now have no young to rear but still require sweet things to keep them going until the cold weather when they die off.
This is when they become a nuisance turning to us and our jam sandwiches and anything else sweet.
They are not out to deliberately sting us. The only time they will do this is if their nest is threatened or disturbed or you start flailing arms at them. If you do get stung don’t wave your arms about as when a wasp stings it releases a pheromone which attract other wasps into the fray.
If you are outside and being bothered put out a sacrificial blob of jam on a saucer and this should keep them occupied whilst you work.
If you are in doubt about this take a look at this video clip on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ww9V1T-N5nc filmed by an eccentric friend of ours.
I hope this brief article will help maybe soften your attitude towards the little creatures.
But if you’re still worried my wife has a solution that often works.
She just sits perfectly still and in a very stern voice asks them to politely go away which they often do.
George Keeble.
With thanks to Michael Chinery et.al.