Summer has swiftly slid into autumn – crisp mornings with heavy dew on the grass, hedgerows full of blackberries and wasps feasting on fermented fruits!
The dryer weather in June and July gave wasp colonies good conditions in which to thrive. Now however, as the temperature drops worker wasps become sluggish and as food becomes more scares, hunger makes them bolder and potentially more aggressive in their search for a meal.
The worker wasps have been around since early spring, but it’s only in late summer and autumn that they are most noticeably aggressive. This relates to the life cycle of worker wasps and their wasps nest. They have been busy spring and summer hunting food (invertebrates such as caterpillars, ants and flies) to feed the developing larvae in the nest. They cannot digest the food they catch but chew it and feed it to the larvae. In return the grubs secrete a sugar rich liquid that the workers can drink.
Towards the end of summer the queen produces the next generation of males and new queens. Once they have left the nest to mate, the new queen’s search for sheltered places that they can hibernate safely over winter. At this point the old queen stops producing larvae, so worker wasps no longer have a supply of sugary liquid to feed on.
Worker wasps now need to search for whatever food they can find to sustain them, often going for the easiest options. So a can of fizzy drink, discarded apple core, glass of Pimms in the beer garden, ice creams and cakes are all potential meals for hungry wasps. The ripe fermenting fruit of autumn doesn’t help things either, as the worker wasps become clumsy and brazen when inebriated.
Things you can do to avoid wasp stings:
- Flapping your arms around frantically, screaming or trying to swat the wasps will only make them more defensive and likely to sting you, so try to remain calm and move away from where they are gathered.
- Be wary of areas such as orchards, soft fruit plants, brambles or uncovered bins where wasps will be searching for food and try to avoid them if possible.
- Do not try drinking from unattended drink cans or bottles as wasps can easily crawl inside them unnoticed. A better option, especially for children is to use drink cartons with straws as the wasps can’t enter these.
- When eating al fresco remember to clean hands and faces after eating sweet foods or consuming sweet drinks, this is especially important for young children.
If you get stung don’t panic:
- If the sting is visible on the skin you can use the edge of a credit card, dragging it across the skin to remove the sting.
- Avoid using tweezers to remove a sting, as some stings contain poison sacs which if grasped with tweezers may inject more poison into the skin.
- To help ease any pain use a cold compress (ice-pack, cold flannel) and take antihistamine to reduce localised swelling.
If you are in any doubt about a wasp sting then consult a doctor or medical professional.