If you’ve been noticing more wasps flying around this time of year in British Columbia, you’re not alone.
Beekeepers and researchers confirm that wasps are very active at the end of summer and this year there might even be more than normal in B.C.
Alison McAfee is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of British Columbia and North Carolina State University who spends her days studying honey bees.
“It seems like there are more wasps around right now than usual,” she says.
At the end of the year, there are normally a lot of hunter wasps scouting for food.
“The workers will hunt for insects and prey on insects and bring 'meatballs' back to their colony to feed larvae,” she explains. "And then the larvae, in turn, will secrete this sugary dew that the workers get to eat.”
There are more of them as summer comes to a close because "that's when their populations are most abundant as they've had the whole year to build up their little colonies,” she explains.
More wasps means more human encounters, but they aren’t necessarily interested in people.
"I wouldn't say that they're more aggressive, they're just more abundant,” says McAfee, adding they aren’t looking to attack humans.
“The more you're interacting with them, the higher the chances are that you'll be stung just by accident,” she says.
Not only is she studying bees, but she’s also actively working to keep her bees safe from wasps.
"I've been seeing the wasps interacting with the honeybee colonies very early,” she says. "So the wasps are a pest for beekeepers like me.”
Wasps tend to eat honey and also predate bees.
“I had to begin trapping them [the wasps] in July this year, whereas normally it's sometime in August that they get bad enough for me to need to control them,” she tells Glacier Media.
Broader trends show that population density oscillates from year to year.
“The temperature and rainfall in the winter and the spring are kind of the next biggest predictors and both of those are tracking with what we're seeing right now,” she says.
Last year, McAfee says there were not as many wasps; this spring was dry, indicating more wasps.
Wasps are important to the ecosystem
While pests are often annoying while having a picnic, the stinging insects are an integral part of the food chain.
Nuria Morfin is the lead on the VC Technology Transfer Program, part of the BC Honey Producers' Association. She says they're a great reminder of the shared environment.
“We tend to link them to bad things... or if we get annoyed by them, but before they get annoying, they do very good things in our gardens and where we live,” she says.
Wasps not only pollinate but are also predators.
“They have all these roles in the environment,” she says.
McAfee echos this and says wasps will eat insects that are harmful to farmers growing crops, but they'll also eat honeybees, which obviously are beneficial insects.
“They have an important role and we kind of vilify them a lot, especially as beekeepers, because they cause such a problem for bees at this time of year. But they are important, and they also are minor pollinators too,” she says, noting if you're worried about getting stung, remember that wasps are often looking for food.
“If you can learn to exist together, then you probably will get away unscathed,” she says. “They’re just looking out for themselves."