Catch a wasp to stop more from coming expert says at Cheltenham Science Festival

If you want to deal with a nuisance wasp when out on a picnic, you could try taking one hostage so that it does not go back to its nest, inform its fellow workers of some tasty morsels nearby, and return with more hunter gatherers, a scientist from Bristol in England explained at the Cheltenham Science Festival earlier this week.

According to evolutionary biologist and behavioural ecologist, Dr. Seirian Sumner – who runs The Sumner Lab – we need to worry no more when a wasp comes and starts spoiling our picnic.

If you take a lone one hostage, Dr. Sumner explained, and trap it under a glass or some kind of container, you have prevented it from going back to its nest and telling hundreds of other wasps where a feast – your picnic – is. If you are a nature lover, you can then set it free when your picnic is over.

Dealing with a waspWhen a wasp is circling it is getting its bearings – it is not flying around you with any malevolent intent, as many people fear. (Image: adapted from

Wasp scouts search for tasty treats

Wasps’ nests typically have young insects flying out as scouts searching for food. What they like the most in August and September are any tasty morsels laden with some kind of sugar.

Scientists are not yet certain how wasps communicate information to each other – but we know they do. When a scout has found food and returns to the nest, the swarm senses its recent find.

According to Dr. Sumner, a senior lecturer at Bristol University’s School of Biological Sciences:

“If you can just stop that first wasp getting back to the colony with food material then you have more of a chance.”

“We need to do more on how they communicate, but once back at the nest they will definitely recruit their friends.”

Wasp on glassIf you trap the wasp in a glass, it cannot go back to its nest and tell other workers about your picnic food – thus preventing a wasp invasion.

When wasps have finished rearing their young in the summer, they often go off in search of tasty sugary treats – they love jam and sugar-sweetened fizzy drinks.

Experts say that wasps typically circle target areas as a means of finding their bearings, and not out of any sinister mean streak, as many people with spheksophobia believe. Spheksophobia means fear of wasps or wasp-phobia.

Wasps are not aggressive

The Bristol Post quotes Adam Hart, Professor of Science Communication at the University of Gloucester, who said:

“They [wasps] are not aggressive creatures but when you start flapping around they will defend themselves.”

According to Dr. Sumner, wasps control pests and eat spiders, cockroaches and other creepy-crawlies we hate – we should see them as our friends.

Dr. Sumner added:

“The reality is that if there is food about, they will find it. Social wasps will eat anything and they will go for any kind of material out there and that makes them incredibly valuable to our ecosystem.”

Common WaspA Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) in flight, sometimes known as the European Wasp. This is the most common species in the United Kingdom. Its amazing adaptation skills enable it to live in a wide range of habitats, from extremely humid areas to artificial environments such as buildings and gardens. (Image:

About wasps

Wasps are classified under the order Hymenoptera – all stinging insects belong to this group. In the world of insects, wasps are highly-evolved creatures with complex social structures and ways of doing things.

A typical wasp is a large, conspicuous insect that produces a familiar buzzing sound when airbourne. It has a yellow and black striped, wasp-waisted body, which is about 15mm long. At one end of their bodies they have a very sweet tooth, and a nasty sting at the other end.

The queen wasp, which in the UK is about 20mm long, hibernates during the winter, and makes a nest in spring in which to lay her eggs.

The queen feeds on insects and grubs until her offspring develop into worker wasps – about three to four weeks after they have hatched. Worker wasps, which are all sterile females, search for food up to a mile from their nest.

Towards the second half of autumn, when their food source becomes scarce, wasps begin to starve and die off in large numbers. The new queen goes into hibernation and emerges in the spring.

Most of the time, wasps survive by eating other insects. However, in August and September, at their peak, when their youngsters have been reared, the workers search for sweet food – that is when they are most likely to go for our picnics.

According to the British Pest Control Association:

“Common Wasps generally build their nests inside something, this can be a roof space/loft, garden shed, inside an air brick or even in the ground. Other Wasps build their nests in bushes, trees, hedgerows and even underground.”

“Basically they build their nests anywhere that they find suitable and where it is protected from the elements and is undisturbed. They build their nest itself using chewed wood and saliva to make a papier mache material. The nest material is strong, lightweight and surprisingly waterproof.”

Video – Common Wasp building a nest

In this slow-motion video you can watch a Common Wasp making a nest from chewed up wood fibres mixed with its saliva. The chewed-up material makes a pulp which the insect uses to make a thin paper-like material.