Why Do Aggressive Wasps Always Bother People?
We've all experienced it, the mad flapping and screaming of a person who has discovered a wasp buzzing around them when they are quietly enjoying a meal or a drink in the great outdoors. Not many of us are overly fond of wasps, especially the unlucky few who have been stung in the past and see these "pests" as vindictive, spiteful, venomous tormentors, apparently dead set on making our lives a misery and forcing us back to the dark realms of "Indoor Land".
One thing I have learned in my years on this planet, is that most of the problem is caused by the people themselves. Who can blame a wasp for stinging a person who is running round like a crazy person and flaying all their limbs around wildly in the vicinity of the wasp in question! As a child of about six years old I was unfortunate enough to be stung by one of these poor creatures. I was in the close vicinity of it's nest, (albeit unwittingly), and for no obvious reason to a six year old, it flew over and stung me on the hand. At the time it hurt, I cried, and my young male playmate killed the offending wasp, before returning me to my Mum for cuddles, ointments and reassurance. What I did learn from this experience was that moving around rapidly where wasps were flying was not a great idea. From that day on if a wasp flew anywhere near me I simply froze like a statue until it flew away again, and hey, guess what, I haven't been stung since, although I am now nearly 34 years older.
Wasps are actually pretty amazing little creatures if you make the effort to find out more about them. Next time one lands on your hand try examining it more closely without frantically trying to swat it away or kill it. It is also worth bearing in mind that if you do kill or harm a wasp, they will release a chemical signal that alerts the other wasps in the nest, (anything up to 10,000 of them), to send out a rescue mission. Unlike a bee, wasps do not die after stinging once, so potentially you could end up being stung multiple times by many thousands of these creatures. Even after they are dead, their sting can carry on going like a virtual machine gun, so it isn't as simple as just killing the insects, the sting lives on!!!
Of course part of the problem is that towards the end of the Summer these worker wasps have nothing left to do. They have fulfilled their mission of providing insects to feed the young grubs back in the nest, and now the queen has stopped rearing workers, and is concentrating her efforts on producing fertile males, mothers and new queens. To make matters worse she has stopped producing the hormone that keeps the wasp colony together within the nest. Needless to say the worker wasps act like many human males do after they have finished their work, and due to their sweet tooth they tend to head off down to the local pub and go for a beer and a snack, (sadly, in the wasp's case, usually someone else's!) Again, like many men, they become somewhat anti-social, or even aggressive after a few beers, so provoking them is not really a sensible move.
Believe it or not wasps do have their uses, and to lose them would be a tragedy in the food chain. Wasps help to control a host of insect pests in their hunt for food to nourish their hungry grubs back at the nest. If it wasn't for wasps we would be over-run with other less appealing insects that would otherwise destroy crops etc.
Hornets are another victim of bad press. Being a huge ( up to 2 inch) wasp, they are victimised by people even more so, yet are not aggressive unless provoked, in which case they can both sting and bite.
Another common, (and sad) misconception, is the misidentification of hoverflies for wasps. These harmless insects look like a much smaller version of a wasp, but have developed the black and yellow stripes as a form of protection to deter predators. Hoverflies have no sting, do not 'buzz' like a wasp or hornet, and are actually very good for the garden in terms of pollinating plants. There are over 270 varieties of hoverflies in Britain, many of which are migrants from the continent. It is incredible that a creature so small can travel so far, and a tragedy if they are killed by humans who are fooled by their colours, and ignorant of their true nature.
So next time you see a flying black and yellow striped insect in your immediate vicinity, try to curb your desire to swat them away, hit them with rolled up papers, scream out loud or run around flapping your limbs like a demented spider. Not only will this be a big plus for the environment, but you should avoid getting stung as well (plus avoiding the risk of killing the harmless hoverfly)!!! Instead, allow them to enjoy a few mouthfuls of your beer, a snack on your jam and a buzz round your table. They will soon move on, (and once they are slightly drunk they won't be capable of bothering you any more anyway!)