Summer has a sting in its tail as wasp numbers increase
Published 26/08/2011 | 03:00
The last days of summer can often be the hairiest, as the end of the warm weather brings the angry buzz of wasps looking for food to feed their young.
And this summer's damp conditions seem to have brought about an upsurge in wasp numbers.
Sue McBean, a lecturer in nursing at the University of Ulster and a wasp expert, said there are a range of precautions people can take to make sure they do not fall foul of the flying pests.
"I wouldn't want people to be phobic of wasps, but it is important to take care not to be stung by a wasp as it can lead to a person going into anaphylactic shock," she said.
"There have already been two fatalities in the UK this year as a result of wasp stings.
"During the summer we tend to leave the windows and doors open, we cook and eat outdoors and generally spend more time in the garden in wasps' territory.
"I do think if you have a barbecue at the beginning of July the wasps wouldn't come near you, but there is less food around for them now so they are looking for a bit of a sugar rush."
Ms McBean said wasps become more aggressive between the months of August and October as they reach the end of their lives.
"Unlike a bee, a wasp can sting over and over without dying, so ideally you should try to avoid them altogether," she said.
"Think about where you plant flowers. If you keep them near doors and windows the wasps are more likely to come into your house.
"Try not to eat sugary foods and drinks outside. If you do drink outside the best thing to do is use a bottle and keep the lid on it to stop any wasps getting inside, which could result in a nasty sting in your mouth.
"If you have a barbecue you can put a mixture of sweet liquids into a jar, such as beer and wine, and leave it on the table. The wasps will be much more interested in that than the food."
She also advised against wearing strong perfumes or bright-coloured clothes, which could lead wasps to confuse humans for flowers.
And if a wasp does approach, Ms McBean warned against lashing out and trying to swat the insect.
"Wasps don't like human hands," she explained.
"If a wasp gets into the car you simply pull over, get out and leave the door open until the wasp flies away, as they are attracted to light.
"If a wasp lands on you, use a piece of paper or a leaf to gently sweep it away."
Tip: If stung a freshly cut onion can help alleviate pain. Onions contain an enzyme that breaks down inflammatory compounds responsible for the pain of a wasp sting.
Wasps: to swat or not to swat ... that is the question
Wasps may look like bees, but they do not produce honey, and - unlike bees - are very likely to sting.
There are hundreds of species of wasp in the UK - the majority of which feed their young - larvae - on other insects.
Everyone is familiar with the sight of the black and yellow striped wasps, but they actually come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours - including tiny metallic red and green ones.
Wasps are inactive at night, when they are most likely to be found in their nests.
Male wasps do not have a stinger, while female wasps do, and for this reason they protect the nest.
A wasp's lifespan depends on its role in the colony - the fertile female could last for a year while the workers, sterile female, will only last 22 days or less.
Males could last longer - usually up to six weeks.
Towards the end of the summer wasps are seen more frequently as they hunt for sweet food, which is when they become more of a nuisance to humans.
As the temperatures begin to drop the nest starts to break down and the grubs the worker wasps used to tend to have grown up.
The grubs no longer secrete the sugary liquid they once did to feed the adult workers and as a result the nest is total anarchy - each wasp is suddenly out for itself on the hunt for sugar, meaning they are attracted to jam, sweets and most things humans enjoy eating.