Unwanted guests at Christmas?

21 December, 2008

A European Wasp
A European Wasp
Image: Alan Henderson
Source: Museum Victoria

As the weather starts to warm up and Christmas draws nears many of us are planning the big family Christmas BBQ. This is a great time of the year, (except of course if you are a prawn, turkey, chicken, pig, lobster, etc).

One downside to these Christmas feasts, however, is the inevitable arrival of unwanted guests. We are not talking here of the relatives who come and eat all the best food, but the European Wasp, Vespula germanica.

European Wasps originate from Europe; they were first found in Tasmania in 1959 and in Melbourne in 1977. They have spread rapidly and are now found widely in Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, south eastern NSW and parts of South Australia.

The European Wasp builds a large communal nest and will aggressively defend this nest if it is disturbed or it believes a threat is posed. Wasps build nests in a range of locations such as tree hollows, in the ground, or in walls and ceilings. Each nest can contain thousands of individuals.

The sting of the introduced European Honey Bee is barbed; when the sting enters a victim, the sting is pulled out of the bee’s body and the bee then dies. The European Wasp on the other hand, has a smooth sting; it can repeatedly sting a perceived threat.

European Wasps are attracted to our homes because we provide them with water sources, great locations to build nests and, most importantly, food. They particularly like food and drinks high in protein and sugar: sausages, fruit and sweet drinks.

Anyone, having a BBQ in summer should be very careful not to leave open cans or bottles of drink outside. Wasps can easily enter to get to the liquid; if someone then takes a sip, they risk a sting to the throat.

The European Wasp is not only a nuisance with a painful (and potentially fatal) sting; it competes with native animals for tree hollows and kills native insects for food for their young back in the nest.

Research has been undertaken to determine whether a potential predator or biological control agent can be found for these damaging pests. Unfortunately at this stage it seems they are here for the foreseeable future.

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