Wasp feeding behaviour
Posted on 31st August 2023 at 14:21
Wasp feeding behaviour
As August comes to an end and we reflect on whether or not this was a good summer (its depends on whether or not you like it hot or prefer cooler temperatures and spells of rain I suppose), there is one thing you probably were aware of and that’s wasps buzzing about throughout the garden all summer long.
If you’ve been lucky then so far, they’ve been ignoring you and keeping to themselves whilst they get on with their chores, however, its at this time of year that some changes happen and you can now find yourself being divebombed by suicidal wasps every time you try to sit outside, why this sudden change you wonder?
Believe it or not, we have over 2000 species of wasp in the UK and its only the few social wasp species that cause us any trouble; we have around 9 different species of wasp or hornet that live in colonies and build nests. These colony dwelling wasps have a major behavioural quirk that makes them a royal pain in the butt as summer draws to and end and it’s what I call - colony collapse.
Right from when the Queen wasp hatches out her first set of eggs, these insects have been busy getting on with colony development; they share building duties, cleaning and foraging for insects all summer long under the control of a pheromone emitted by the Queen. Everything they do leads to the seasonal climax when the Queen lays the last batches of eggs which are destined to be future Queens.
While the Queen wasp sits astride her throne and is producing eggs, the workers are busy with a conveyor belt of eggs and larvae, they feed the grubs a diet of chopped up insects and in turn, they get fed by their charges as they’ll secrete a sweet, sticky liquid which the wasps love. It’s a highly symbiotic relationship; as a wasp larva you’re protected and fed by your older sisters and in turn, you give them all the food they need.
This relationship is the bedrock of a wasp colony and as we run through the summer months the numbers of worker wasps can reach numbers that range into the thousands, but what happens when the Queen dies and there are no more grubs to feed the wasps? Colony collapse.
You have on average a thousand to a few thousand wasps; the super wasp nests that you’ll see in tabloid papers are due to a set of circumstances that come together beautifully, and these are uncommon, no matter, the average nest still contains a lot of hungry wasps and these will soon become a pest.
At the end of the lifespan of the colony, the Queen has died, and no more larvae are produced, the wasps that are “left over” need to feed and without teeth, the only thing that they can eat are liquids and they have a real sweet tooth (eventhough they don’t have teeth). These wasps will look for any sweet, sticky liquid to eat; sap from willow tree’s is one popular food source, the same for sap from lime tree’s. If you park your car under one of these trees, then expect to find it covered in wasps, all crawling about on the paintwork desperately trying to find enough sap.
Likewise, open a can of fizzy drink or take out food into the garden and you’re about to be buzzed repeatedly by other hungry wasps. Without the Queens pheromone to control them, the wasps have lost purpose and their food supply, so confusion reigns supreme in their world. You’ll find that although they can and will sting, their aggressiveness has gone.
Another source of food for these wasps comes in the form of juice from ripe or fallen fruit as these can be sucked up by the insects, the problem here is that sometimes the natural alcohol produced because of the fermentation process can go on to make wasps drunk and aggressive, great, just to make things even better you now find yourself with thousands of bad tempered drunk insects running amuck all over the garden.
Generally speaking, as much as they are a nuisance, these wasps don’t have a colony to defend anymore so they are much less likely to fly out and attack you, although because they’re bad tempered evil little buggers, they will still sting you. One possible solution to the problem of colony collapse is to install wasp lures around the garden, these attract the insects into a chamber where they end up drowning in the liquid lure. The only problem is that these lures will also bring more wasps and even hornets into your garden so they should be used away from where you spend any time.
If you’re having problems with wasps in Maidenhead and they look a bit lost, high numbers of wasps aimlessly walking about, and they’re not interfering with you, then your best course of action might be to just leave them well alone, usually they will disperse in a few days as they either die off or find themselves another source of food.
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