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Nature Nut

Rosamund Pojar
Paper wasps are among the species of wasps found in B.C. (Joaquim Alves Gaspar/Wikimedia Commons)

Why are there so many wasps around this August? Why are they so interested in your sugary drink, ice cream, jam, or any sticky sweet foods at your picnic? Why are they so cranky?

One of the reasons for the large numbers this year is that we had a very warm spring. Spring is when the queen wasps emerge from hibernation and start to build their nests and lay eggs. Depending on the species, worker wasps may only need two weeks to develop from eggs to full-grown adults that are then sent out from the hive by the queen to find food for the larvae.

Warm to hot weather in early spring means tender succulent plants start growing earlier and provide food for many prey insects that wasps rely on as a food source, in particular protein.

The workers capture the insects, maybe chew them up a bit and swallow some of the food, but most of it is fed to the developing larvae in the nest. In return, the larvae secrete a very sweet gift which the workers consume and seem to become addicted to.

This will continue all through a warm or hot summer and gradually there will be no more room in the nest for new larvae, so the workers are forced to leave the nest and search for food to satiate their yearning for sweet stuff. They are very hungry and cranky and find barbecues and picnics, especially ones with lots of sweet stuff, irresistible.

I have been watching the numerous wasps this year as they have been hunting around my flowers and vegetables and I have gained new respect for them. Not only do they pollinate some flowers, but I like to think that they are removing insects that would normally be chewing on my veggies.

In addition, I think the wasps must be sucking some of the sugary excretions coming down like a fine invisible rain from the aspen aphids. Our poor cat keeps trying to shake the sticky leaves off its feet and my car window is covered in fine droplets of aphid juice.

So be prepared… if May is warm or hot, wasps will be bad later in the summer.