Summer’s Unwanted Guest: The European Wasp
Ah, summer. Time for the beach, lazy days and an endless number of barbeques and outdoor parties. Christmas too: Australia isn’t exactly the weather for the most traditional of Western Christmases, and most of us find ourselves outside, revelling in the sunshine, spreads of salads and cold meats, cricket, drinking, and dips in whatever body of water is nearby. It’s a special time of year, marked by much celebrating. The only problem? We are not the only creature that loves a barbeque with soft drink, tins of beer and sugary spirits.
Barely tolerated in their native homes of Europe, North Africa and Asia, the European Wasp was first sighted in Australia in 1959. Since then, these pests have earnt themselves a loathsome reputation. Notorious for taking up residence where people work and play, these wasps threaten with their deadly sting, and build oversized nests in and out of their usual nesting seasons. As the warmer climate extends the life cycle of the introduced species, and a lack of predators increases its chance of survival, European wasps have become notorious in Australia. By reaping the benefits of mild winters that generate longer life cycles, the introduced species has been found to build nests four times larger than those found in Europe.
There are many reasons the European wasp has such a negative reputation. Environmentally, they prey on indigenous fauna, especially other insects, and compete for nectar and food. As an introduced species, they remain unthreatened by their usual native predators and pesticides. Known to kill pets and even livestock, raid beehives for honey and bees, and decimate grape and fruit crops, European wasps are a dangerous and destructive introduced pest.
And if these environmental factors aren’t bad enough, it is the wasp’s aggressive demeanour and potentially fatal sting that have generated the most fear. When a bee stings, its stinger is left behind in the skin; in comparison, the European wasp can sting repeatedly without dying. It also emits a scent, or pheromone, that alerts other wasps to attack. This sharp sting is followed by a burning pain and inflammation; however, more serious repercussions are possible, with one in ten people being allergic to the venom. At its most extreme, this can lead to a severe and life-threatening allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis. Despite this also being the case for honey bee stings, the European wasp’s aggressive behaviour exacerbates this problem.
To make matters worse, this species is commonly drawn to social settings, and are the great unwanted barbeque guest! Attracted to sugar, European wasps nest around human habitation where they can scavenge for sweet foods and drinks. Perhaps the most infamous example is them sneakily hiding inside drink cans and bottles when left unattended. For this reason it is vital that we show caution this silly season, making sure that drinks, especially those of children, are not left unattended. If you come across a European wasp colony on your property, it is strongly recommended that you call an expert, such as myself, to remove it. Without this assistance, severe, and life-threatening attacks are possible. So remember, the sting of summer can be worse than your sunburn! Be careful and seek assistance before dealing with one of Australia’s most unloved summer guests.