The Queen of all Wasp Plagues?

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Life cycle of wasps and their impact on the environment.

2006 has all of the early hallmarks of becoming plagued by wasps. What determines whether any particular year will see a wasp plague? The weather!

Nothing as complex as global warming but quite simply, seasonal variations which impact on the time of year that wasp nests mature. When a wasp nest matures it releases thousands of queen and drone (male) wasps which then mate. The drones die off quickly after mating leaving the queens to survive to start new colonies. Queens and drones are released any time from about the start of August through to mid November. If this happens in August, the mated queens have to survive several months before the following spring to start their own nests. If it happens in November, the queens have to survive a comparatively shorter time and so more of them do survive. On average you can expect to have as many as a thousand wasp nests per square mile (in average central European terrain). On average each nest will release some 1,500 queens. So to sustain population levels only two queens need to survive from every three nests. If nests mature as late as November more queens survive and this potentially will result in a wasp plague. Guess what? Yes, in 2005 wasp nests matured as late as November. Inclement weather in early spring and summer of 2005 held back nest development until much later in the year. As a result 2006 has as predicted seen an explosion of queen wasps emerging from hibernation and there is a high probability that this autumn will be plagued by wasps. It is by no means a sure thing but because spring in 2006 has started slightly late, it is unlikely that the new queens will have to survive any late harsh frosts which would set them back as happened in 2005. If the weather holds through until summer, then the predictions are that there will be an awful lot of wasps about.

However, people should not panic and should not be tempted to kill queens. Wasps are a very, very important insect. Queens feed on nectar when they emerge from hibernation and so help to pollinate plants. As wasp nests grow they consume vast amounts of other insect pests. An average wasp nest is said to consume between 4 to 5 metric tons of insect pests including caterpillars, grubs, flies, biting insects and mosquitoes. Wasps really do help to keep our crops, gardens and orchards healthy. To achieve the same level of pest control using pesticides would see us immersed neck deep in an environmental disaster. In 2005 there were few wasps about and look at how many people complained about the number of flies and mosquitoes? It is only in late summer and autumn that wasps become a nuisance when they change their feeding behaviour and go after sugary foods. This is the time when the worker wasps start to starve and the old nests start to die off. This is the time when wasps can then be safely eradicated without doing harm to the environment either by destroying nests or by using efficient wasp traps.

For more information on the life cycle of wasps and their impact on the environment see

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