For pest controllers the wasp season can be an exciting time. By mid July, the nests are well under way, each containing several hundred worker wasps and a queen.
The work itself, treating wasps nests, is usually a straight forward operation. Nests at height can add a degree of difficulty, but most can be accessed from steps or ladders. Occasionally access into a loft may be required, but 98 percent of nests are treated from outside. Once a nest has been treated it normally takes two hours to calm down, and it should be completely quiet the next day. The nest itself will never be re-used again, and as a result it does not need to be removed.
Even after twenty five years in pest control I still enjoy meeting new and regular customers, and some regular customers I have seen most years, for all of my career.
Interesting wasp facts;
The workers are all female, infertile and they carry out specific tasks for the colony. It is likely their duties change with age, initially spending time in the nest and later leaving the nest to hunt.
Paper versus Wax.
Wasps differ from social bees in many ways, and these differences have shaped their life cycle completely. Wasp nests are made from paper. The adults collect wood pulp, scraped from fence panels, wooden gates etc using their strong mandibles. This is mixed with a saliva and reformed in very intricate patterns to build the nest. However, paper is no use when used to contain liquids. Social bees use pollen and nectar to make honey, the bees main food source. They also over produce honey, which is stored in wax cells, which allows them to survive through the winter. To get round this problem wasps hunt other insects for their primary food source. They catch other insects on the wing, sting them, chop off useless body parts, such as wings and legs, and return to the nest with the remaining high protein meat. They will eat some of this themselves, but pass most of the meat to the grubs, the maggot like larvae housed in the hexagonal paper cells deep inside the nest. As a pay off, the grubs pass a part digested liquid waste, which adult workers within the nest rely on as a food source.
Hunting wasps will also visit flowers for nectar and water sources for water. So, by choosing paper over wax as a building material, wasps have to use a completely different food strategy in order to survive. This also places them in a different niche, and competition with social bees is avoided.
Later in the year, wasp nests will have grown to the size of a football, and often bigger. By late October these will contain 6 to 8 thousand workers. Treating nests at this time can be very dangerous, with guard wasps taking exception to pest controllers poking and prodding spray nozzles into their nests. Not wishing to tempt fate it has been several years since I have been stung, but I rarely approach a wasps nest without a full bee suit on.
Customers attempting DIY wasp treatments later in the year are risking serious injury. Wasps have the ability to sting multiple times, and they will defend their nest with a ferocity that can be startling, and always painful.
What good do they do?
I am often asked what use are wasps, which is a strange question that only seems to apply to this insect. It also assumes that some animals have a use. Bees pollinate plants, but only by accident. In fact it is plants that manipulate bees, offering them nectar to entice them onto the pollen, which they transfer to other flowers by accident.
Why do they choose my house,
We may never know for sure, but my guess is that it is a good location that meets their requirements. Some houses get wasp nests most years. It is likely that what is a good location one year is a good location another. The upside to this is we get the chance to keep customers year after year.