By Andrea Arnold
With the arrival of fall and cooler temperatures, there seems to be an increase in the local wasp population.
Maggie’s Farm Products website suggests that it doesn’t just seem like it but that in fact, there are more wasps out and about in fall months. This is because over the summer, the queen lays and fertilizes eggs that then hatch in the later summer months. While the new family members are larvae, adult wasps hunt and paralyze insects to bring back to feed them, and the larvae produce a sweet food in return. When the queen stops laying and the larvae hatch, the grown insects must find other food sources. Their search for sugar and carbohydrates often lead them to sources close to humans, drinks, picnics, and fruit trees. The lack of easily obtained food means they are hungry, and more aggressive.
Another reason for an increase in aggression is that the queen may be on the move to find a safe place for the winter. Her loyal subjects serve to ensure she is safe during the transition and will attack any perceived threat. Wasps, unlike bees, can sting multiple times, releasing pheromones alerting others, potentially resulting in the threat facing a small army of defensive wasps.
There are several ways to minimize your chance of being stung. Wasps are attracted to bright colours and sweet smells. These things do not cause wasps to sting, but they may cause them to get close enough that you swat at them, resulting in a sting or several. Avoid perfume and sweet smelling soaps if you know you are going to be in an area that may have a wasp population, and stay away from brightly coloured or patterned clothing that could have you mistaken for a flower. Wearing appropriate footwear can also help you avoid injury. Even stepping on a wasp that has been recently killed can result in a sting. Watch for wasps that have been trapped on water. Keeping trash cans and compost covered and avoiding leaving food uncovered outside can help limit the number of wasps visiting the area. Loose siding and openings to buildings can be used to build nests, allowing large populations of wasps to move in. By eliminating these sorts of spaces, you can help control the wasp population in the area.
Even taking all precautions, it is inevitable that a wasp will land on most people at least once. So, what can you do to limit the risk of being stung?
Several websites state strongly to remain calm.Treehugger.com explains that sometimes wasps will land on people just to inspect and smell, or have a drink of sweat before moving on. The site goes on to say never make abrupt movements like swatting or flapping that may scare a wasp into defensive mode, and if you are stung, back away to remove yourself from the wasp and the potential swam, slowly and calmly. If one lands on you, the site suggests gently and slowly brushing it off with a piece of paper, however, the paper could be seen as a threat, and the action could backfire.
Results from a recent study at the University of Michigan suggests that if you are aggressive towards a wasp or honeybee, it may recognize your face and attack if it sees you again. A control group of wasps were placed in two boxes containing one photo each. One was a “good guy” and one was a “bad guy.” The wasps received a mild shock in the box with the “bad guy” photo. The wasps were moved to a box with the photos on opposite ends, and they quickly moved to the “safe” photo. This idea was repeated through a variety of mazes and other tests.
There are many different suggestions as to what to do if you have been stung by a wasp, but the first step before any of them is to clean the site with soap and water. Following the cleaning, medical suggestions include Benadryl, hydrocortisone cream or Claritin to help with itching and swelling, acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, From there, there are countless home remedies such as vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda/water paste, raw onion, or ice, to name a few. Most stings should only cause swelling and discomfort for a few days, but swelling can persist for up to a week. If the reaction discomfort continues to increase, a visit to a doctor is recommended.
If an allergic reaction occurs, call 911. Signs of an allergic reaction can include wheezing, swelling of throat and tongue, rash or hives, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.
Plunketts.net helps identify the three most common social wasps, Paper wasps, Bald-faced hornets and Yellowjackets are all social wasps that share the ability to sting repeatedly. They also are capable of biting in an act of defense. They all live within colonies located in nests of recycled wood fibres, and each colony has one queen.
Yellowjackets are the smallest, measuring only about a half inch in length. They often are mistaken for honey bees due to their yellow markings. Their nests are usually found underground. While in flight, yellowjackets tuck their legs close to their body.
Bald-faced hornets are about three quarters of an inch long with black bodies and gray bands. Their colonies contain over 100 insects and are huge enclosed structures that hang from sturdy perches like tree branches.
Paper wasps are long legged, one inch long creatures. Their colour can range from reddish-orange to black and can have yellow highlights. They live in small numbers, under 100, in umbrella shaped nests that hang from eaves or window casings. Their long legs dangle while in flight.