Wasps are probably one of the most hated insects in Britain. They gatecrash our picnics, harass us in beer gardens, and it often feels like they sting for the sake of it.
With the UK experiencing bouts of warmer weather this year, experts believe it’s likely wasps will be even more prevalent this summer. “Everyone’s talking about having a bit of a bumper wasp season this year and that there’ll be more nests around because of the warm weather,” Natalie Bungay, a technical officer for the British Pest Control Association, tells HuffPost UK.
Biologist Professor Adam Hart says he’s seeing quite a few worker wasps at the moment, although couldn’t say for sure whether there are more than usual, without more data. “Warm weather that isn’t too dry tends to be good for insects in general so it is possible that we might see some good numbers over the coming weeks,” he says.
Last summer was one of the “worst ever” for wasps because of the hot weather, pest controllers said, and this year, Prof Hart is encouraging people to take part in his Big Wasp Survey – especially those living in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and other rural areas – so that accurate data can be collected.
So, Why Do We Need Wasps?
It’s easy to think of wasps as useless pests but they are actually important pest controllers, says Prof Hart: “They take huge amounts of caterpillars and other insects we think of as pests from our crops and gardens.”
As predators they help to increase biodiversity, “tending to take out common species first and letting others prosper”, he adds.
They also do some pollination and are amazing “architects and builders”, he adds. “They are greatly misunderstood sadly, all because of a few weeks in the year when we are outside and they are most active,” says Prof Hart.
Why Are They Rife In August?
Wasps tend to be more prevalent in August and September in the UK, which is why you might be seeing loads of them around at the moment.
Dr Seirian Sumner, an expert in behavioural ecology at University College London, previously told HuffPost UK: “It’s at the time in the colony cycle when the nest is at its biggest in terms of workers. Also we notice them more at that time because the workers no longer have many larvae to feed and so they are not foraging for insect prey (which is protein for the larvae).”
Larvae release a sugary reward when they are fed which keeps adult wasps partially satisfied, however at the end of the colony cycle the larvae will have “pupated” so the adults are on the hunt for sugar to feed themselves. This is why they’ll always head straight to your glass of coke or beer.
“So it’s a double whammy of workers having less ‘work’ to do as the pupae don’t need looking after and that they are not getting the sugary reward from the larvae for feeding them,” said Dr Sumner.
How To Avoid Wasps
For those who are terrified of wasps, discovering there might be more about this year is not exactly music to the ears. However there are things you can be doing to minimise your contact. “Try not to attract them,” says Prof Hart, who advises to keep food and drinks covered up outside when wasps are active.
If you’re being pestered by a wasp, try to move somewhere else. Finally, don’t flap at them or antagonise them, he says, as it may encourage them to sting.
What prompts a wasp to sting a person? “Wasps are actually generally not aggressive,” says Prof Hart. “Stinging is dangerous for them. They tend to sting in defence and commonly stings occur when they are squashed in some way, perhaps in our hair or caught in between clothes and skin.”
How To Deal With Nests
If you find a wasps nest in your attic or garden, the first thing you might do is panic before calling in someone to destroy the nest. But Prof Hart says this is not the right approach. “Some nests may cause a big problem,” he admits, “but we may not even notice many nests in our lofts and gardens.”
If the wasps aren’t causing a problem there is no reason to do anything about them, he says. “Wasps in the loft, for example, typically fly outside and well above head height. If wasps are causing a problem then it may be necessary to do something about them, but that should never be the default option.”
Typically, wasps will abandon a nest after the summer and won’t return to it the following year. But if you are worried about large numbers of wasps or if they pose a threat to your health, you should call a pest controller.
What To Do If They Sting You
First of all, move away from the area where you were stung. According to the BPCA, a social wasp in distress emits a pheromone that sends nearby colony members into a defensive “frenzy” – meaning your wasp friend might have back-up on the way.
Anaphylaxis may be caused by bee or wasp stings on rare occasions, so if you feel suddenly and generally unwell after being stung call 999. If you feel okay but the area is quite sore, it might be worth buying an over-the-counter, non-sedating antihistamine. You might need to take it for a few days. Over-the-counter steroid creams might also help relieve the sting.
Other treatments include calamine lotion, menthol in aqueous cream and Balneum Plus cream all of which will provide immediate but short-lived relief and therefore should be applied frequently.
Avoid scratching the area if possible and in the rare case that the sting becomes infected, book in to see your GP.