The buzz on wasps

EYES OUT:  Wasp numbers are up because of the dry weather.
EYES OUT: Wasp numbers are up because of the dry weather.

Watch out for wasps.

Two warm dry springs are among reasons for a big increase this summer.

Numbers regularly go up and down according to the seasons, Darren Ward at Landcare Research says.

Fewer nests survive cold, wet springs but warmer conditions can have the reverse effect, he says.

Butterfly breeder Isabel Harris of Warkworth is among those reporting an influx this year.

She uses fly spray on paper wasps before squashing their nests to kill the larvae.

She also uses an insecticide powder for german and common wasps nesting underground.

Ms Harris says wasp control should only take place at night when the chances of being stung are minimised.

Wrap red plastic wrap around a torch to stop wasps attacking the light source, she says.

Professional advice on wasp control can be obtained through various companies specialising in the practice.

But researchers are always looking for new and better methods.

Plant & Food Research are looking at the use of mussels as a bait for wasps in southern beech forests.

The idea was first mooted when a couple of staffers took note of wasp behaviour around mussels while out fishing.

"Being scientists, we looked into it," project leader Dr Ashraf El-Sayed says.

He says compounds in uncooked mussels, which wasps are drawn to, could be the basis for a new generation of control methods.

"Vespid wasps are highly abundant in New Zealand's indigenous beech forests, due, in part, to the vast supply of honeydew, which is also a major food source for native birds and insects," Dr El-Sayed says. "Traditionally, wet cat food has been used as bait, but this degrades rapidly and has to be replaced often. Using compounds from New Zealand mussels may provide a sustainable method for controlling these insect invaders.'

Not all wasp news is bad.

Dr Ward and his Auckland-based research colleagues are in the process of naming a newly discovered species of small, rotund wasp after Hobbit characters.

S. bilboi, S. frodoi, S. meriadoci, S. peregrini, S. samwisei and S. tolkieni are among the names being discussed.

The new genus is only found in New Zealand.

Rodney Times