If you’ve been out and about in Calgary for the past few days, you may have hit the air to keep wasps from appearing to increase.
And unlike the more docile honeybee, the 14 known species of yellow jack wasps in Alberta are known for their persistence – and sometimes their aggression.
- SEE Ken Fry’s full interview with Andrew Brown above.
Ken Fry, entomologist at Olds College, says you are not imagining anything – Albertans have been seeing more of the rampant anger lately.
This is not due to a wasp boom in 2020. Rather, their numbers increase in late summer, when the early eggs grow up.
“Queens start all by themselves building new nests, laying the first generation of eggs and taking care of the young,” said Fry.
“So the population is very small at the start of the season, and as … more children grow up, you see more adult wasps on the move.
“We’ll see the really strong populations by the end of July and August.”
Hot weather, cold blood
Another factor that contributes to an increase in wasps in late summer is heat.
Cold-blooded creatures mature faster in warm weather, says Fry. This results in more adult wasps buzzing around during and after the warmest summer periods, and turnover in nests increases as generations reproduce faster.
“They age faster, so they develop faster – and so we see a lot more of them this time of year.”
So it is not an invention of our imagination: right now there are more adult wasps than usual in our midst.
But do we imagine that they seem more aggressive?
Lack of resources
According to Fry, they should actually seem more relentless at this stage of the season. But that has nothing to do with wasp rage – it’s about survival.
Competing with other insects and animals for food – and now with a growing number of adult wasps to feed young and mature larvae – their persistence is likely related to a lack of resources.
And while adult wasps are mostly vegetarian and feed on nectar, younger wasps need protein.
If you ingest sugar or protein outside, they are likely to attract you and your food with increased interest.
“They’ll come to your burger or soft drink on deck because they’re looking for something to drink for themselves and they’re looking for food for their kids,” Fry said.
Wear dark colors, no perfume
There are ways to make yourself less attractive to wasps. According to Fry, wearing bright colors or floral perfume can make you more easily mistaken for a flower that should be examined, while darker colors are less appealing.
If you flap your arms or react violently when a wasp is hovering near you, you could be perceived as a threat and trigger a wasp duel.
Buying commercial traps or making your own traps out of a pop bottle and sugar water is one way to keep wasps at bay, Fry says.
Wasps are most active in warm weather. (Frank Rumpenhorst / AFP / Getty Images)
However, before you set out to get rid of your backyard wasps problem once and for all, Fry notes that the role they play in keeping other insects at bay – and in keeping your plants in good health – is worth considering is.
“They have a suppressive force on the other insect populations. Instead of being up to their ears on other insects that eat all of our plants, these guys shut that down a bit,” Fry said.
“And if you visit flowers for nectar, they could also pollinate something. All in all, they are an essential part of a good, functioning ecosystem.”