Wasps surge ‘worst in recent years’ amid UK heatwave

By Ajay Nair, news reporter

The prolonged hot weather has meant more time in the sun enjoying barbecues and drinks in the park but for many, the good times have been blighted by wasps.

The British Pest Control Association (BPCA) said this summer has been one of the worst for the yellow and black pests, with some experts expecting them to live longer as forecasters predict a warm autumn ahead.

Queens are expected to go back into hibernation by autumn, leaving wasps without a purpose and desperately searching for sugar, wherever they can get it.

The BPCA said pest controllers around the UK were destroying up to 12 nests a day.

The trade body’s technical officer Natalie Bungay told Sky News: “It’s been bad, pest controllers have been really busy – they’ve been doing about 10 to 12 jobs a day. Last year they were doing just one or two a day.

“It’s been very very busy.”

The wasps go in search for sugar when their queens go into hibernation
Image:The wasps go in search for sugar when their queens go into hibernation

She said the constant heat was believed to be behind the upsurge in wasp control call-outs as well as it being a “bumper year” with wasp populations usually rising and falling in a two-year pattern.

“It’s the worst in recent years,” she said. “There’s been a lot more wasp activity this year than in the last three or four years.”

She warned nests could get “pretty big” this year with hot weather predicted to run into October but warned people not to go near them.

“They [the wasps] are going to attack you if you do, so you need to have the right protection on you,” she said, before adding: “The pest control industry isn’t just about killing things, we try not to do that if possible.

“If you can leave it, leave it alone and it will be fine as long as you don’t disturb them.”

Business has been booming for pest control firms. File pic
Image:Business has been booming for pest control firms. File pic

Towards the end of summer – when the queens stop laying eggs – the creatures live on fermenting, alcoholic fruit to survive – but it can leave them “intoxicated”, making the “inebriated” wasps more likely to sting.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust website explains why the winged-insects can no longer feast as they did before – when their queens were still laying eggs.

“The answer actually lies in the unusual ecology and bizarre anatomy of social wasps,” it says. “In the spring, queen wasps wake from hibernation and start to build their nest, laying eggs and raising their first brood of daughters. These worker wasps cannot produce fertilised eggs, so spend their time helping their mother to expand the nest and raise more young.”

Wasps nests could become larger as the hot weather continues
Image:Wasps nests could become larger as the hot weather continues

The worker wasps then go in search for soft-bodied invertebrates to give to developing larvae.

“Bizarrely, adult wasps cannot digest the food they catch because their gut is so constricted by their thin ‘wasp waists’,” the charity adds. “Instead the workers chew up the prey and feed it to the larvae. In return, the larvae produce a sugar-rich spit that the workers can drink.

“The colony will go on expanding throughout the summer until the queen decides to produce males and new queens. After these ‘reproductives’ have left the nest, the old queen stops laying. This means the workers no longer have access to larvae.

“Instead, they live on the sugar produced by rotting fruit. This can be a problem because fermenting fruit contains alcohol, so wasps can become intoxicated and rather irritating.”