PODCAST EPISODE 47: Phil Lester, Author and Professor of Ecology and Entomology, Wellington, New Zealand
A German proverb reads: “God made the bee, but the Devil made the wasp.” Anyone who knows me knows, I am not a wasp fan in the slightest, especially not of the nasty European wasp. As Australia’s warm 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 the antipodes. Reaping the benefits of mild winters that generate longer lifecycles, the introduced species has been found to build nests four times larger than those found in Europe! And that’s just the beginning. European wasps prey on indigenous fauna, kill pets and livestock, raid beehives for honey and bees, decimate grape and fruit crops, and threaten humans with their fatal sting. In order to delve deep into the lives of these destructive pests for episode 47 of the BEES WITH BEN beekeeping podcast, I was lucky enough to chat to Professor of Ecology and Entomology Phil Lester – author of two of my favourite books and over 125 articles on invasive ants, wasps and other insects in journals such as Biology Letters, Ecology, and Proceedings of the Royal Society. What an incredible wealth of knowledge! Phil’s stellar book from 2018 ‘The Vulgar Wasp: The Story of a Ruthless Invader and Ingenious Predator’ unpacks the mysteries of the despised common wasp, asking questions such as: how can we manage wasps? Can we ever learn to live with them? What can they teach us about the challenges we face for pest control? His more recent book from 2020 ‘Healthy Bee, Sick Bee: The Influence of Parasites, Pathogens, Predators and Pesticides on Honey Bees’ presents quite an opposite story: the story of one of the most well-loved creatures on the planet! Both publications are packed with information and anecdotes that will educate and surprise even the savviest beekeeper, and Phil’s wit and intelligence make both books great page turners. Tune in to hear Phil and I chat about the good, bad and the ugly of the bee and wasp universe – perfect timing considering European wasps have been very active with the La Nina weather cycle! Eeek!