Warmer months tend to bring about more flying insects, such as wasps, hornets and bees.
Here we explain more about them, how much of a threat they pose, and what to do about them.
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In the summer, it’s common to see someone frantically swatting away at wasps, but most are docile, only stinging in self-defence. In general, they’re hunting for soft-bodied insects to feed to their larvae.
They become more of a nuisance during late summer/early autumn, when they need sugary substances to feed themselves. This could be nectar… Or human food and drink.
According to Paul Blackhurst, Technical Academy Head at Rentokil Pest Control: “You may be surprised to learn that wasps can also be highly beneficial to the ecosystem, especially when they are feeding their young grubs protein. They obtain this protein from consuming pest insects from the garden, and the grubs in turn reward the adults with a sugary secretion – essentially faeces.
“It is when the grub-to-adult ratio drops that issues can arise, as the adult wasps still crave their carb fix but may not get enough from their offspring. Typically this imbalance occurs around the end of July, which is when wasps can start becoming particularly annoying and persistent around items such as ice creams and sugary drinks.”
Most of the wasps we see in the UK are social wasps. The two types of wasp most likely to make themselves known at your picnic are the common wasp (Vespula vulgaris), or the slightly worse-tempered German wasp (Vespula germanica).
Distressed or dying wasps release alarm pheromones to warn and a call other wasps. To stop a wasp bugging you, trap it under a glass and release it when you leave.
Top tip: If your pet food regularly attracts pests, it’s worth considering getting an automatic feeder. Some will seal when your pet leaves, keeping away pests, while also keeping wet food fresh.
Wasps are apex predators, and important for keeping the ecosystem healthy. But it’s best to prevent wasps’ nests in your home.
Wasps can become aggressive if their nest is threatened, stinging anyone getting too near. It’s also dangerous if you’re allergic to wasp stings, as you risk anaphylactic shock, which can be fatal if not treated right away.
Paul Blackhurst says: “Alongside their painful stings, wasps are notorious for building their nests in places near people, including in building cavities and the eaves of houses, but they can also go unnoticed in attics and lofts.
“New queen wasps will emerge from their wintering sites and start to build new nests in the spring. It’s advisable to treat a nest earlier in the year before numbers increase and the wasps become more aggressive, increasing the threat of being stung while dealing with these pests.
“Engaging with a local pest company is your most effective route to the removal of a wasp nest, but there are some DIY products such as traps and sprays that can also help.”
Check your home and garden for nests in early spring. At this time of year, they’ll be a more manageable size – about that of a golf ball.
Look in the attic, outbuildings such as sheds, in your garage and under eaves. If you know of a location where there’s been a nest before, check there too, as queens will often return to the same spot.
If you do find a nest, don’t get rid of it yourself – especially if you’re allergic to insect stings. Wasps will try to defend their nest, so disturbing it is likely to make them aggressive. If you find a wasp nest, get in touch with a pest control service such as Rentokil.
It’s worth noting that some councils offer pest control services, and may get rid of your wasp nest for you. You can report a pest problem on GOV.UK here (England and Wales only), or find out about pest control services in Northern Ireland here.
Hornets are a type of wasp. They’re the largest of the social wasps, and tend to be longer and stockier than more common wasps. The only hornet native to the UK is the European hornet (Vespa crabro), which lives mostly in woodland.
While we often think hornets are more aggressive than common wasps, they’re quite passive, only stinging when provoked, or if their nest is under threat. However, when threatened, they’ll swarm – which can be intimidating.
The tips for preventing and removing hornets are the same as for common wasps (see above). Although they’re good to have around if you’re a keen gardener, as they prey on species which eat plants and crops, and are useful for pollination.
There are over 250 types of bee in the UK. The most common include the western / European honey bee (Apis mellifera), the red mason bee (Osmia bicornis), and a variety of bumble bees.
Paul Blackhurst says: “Bees can be split into different groups: solitary bees, bumble bees and honey bees. With spring in full bloom, solitary bees, bumble bees and honey bees – as well as wasps – are emerging from their hives and nests in search of food sources such as nectar and other insects.
“Wasps are often confused with bees, in particular honey bees. However, on closer inspection, bees vary in colour from golden brown to almost black and are furrier than wasps.”
Honey bees are social bees, and only sting if they feel threatened. The solitary red mason bee has no sting at all if it’s male, and the female will only sting you if handled very roughly. In other words, the threat posed to humans or pets is negligible.
Bee fact: Red mason bees pollinate much more effectively than honey bees, carrying pollen on the underside of their abdomen, rather than their legs.
They’re also vitally important to the ecosystem, and 25% of bee species are endangered. For this reason, pest controllers won’t apply bee treatments unless there’s a serious threat to human life. While it’s not illegal to apply treatments yourself, you should consider all other available options before eradication.
“Bees are beneficial insects to our ecosystem and in most cases treatment is not necessary,” says Paul Blackhurst. “But – where such action is required and legally permitted – it is most likely to involve physical removal rather than the use of chemicals.”
We recommend leaving bees alone. Keep your distance from them, and don’t fret if they seem more active in warmer weather – this is normal behaviour. While they may be more commonplace in spring and early summer, most will have left later in the summer.
If leaving them alone isn't an option, the second option should be to have them relocated. If you suspect you have a nest of honey bees, contact the British Beekeepers Association to arrange swarm removal, which is ordinarily free of charge.
Only if you feel you have no choice should eradication be an option. Contact the British Pest Control Association (BPCA) to find a pest controller. It’s worth noting that they will approach this ethically, but may also decline to use treatments unless they deem it completely necessary.
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Our Home Emergency Cover helps you stay secure. It includes getting rid of rats, mice, wasps and hornets, if there is evidence of an infestation in your home.
To find out more about pest controllers’ views on bees, read the BPCA’s ‘We’re leaving you bee’ leaflet