Pest Control in April
April must be wasps, not because they're our pest of the month but this is the month when the Queen wasp will emerge from hibernation and start the cycle that leads to misery for some people and often for us in the pest control sector, later on - our busiest time of the year.
At the end of each year the only surviving wasps will be the Queen's; these would have mated and will now find a dry spot to spend the winter in, insects don't truly hibernate as this is a term that applies to mammals as they reduce metabolic rate, core temperature and heart rate. Insects for one don't have the ability to keep themselves warm as they depend on their surroundings for insulation, insects go into torpor, a form of shutting down which allows them to survive the winter.
The Queen's will emerge around April, fertilised, hungry and ready to begin their part of the wasp lifecycle; they will start constructing a simple wasp nest consisting of around eight cells and a thin paper case - around the size and similar in shape to a ping pong ball. You can often see failed nests hanging from roofs of sheds or lofts, the Queen's are weak and a cold snap in the weather now will be a disaster for the young Queen and her brood. The emergence of the Queen wasps is timed to the appearance of many other insects like aphids that will be their prey, primarily insectivores wasps eat mainly other insects although the drones will visit flowers to drink nectar.
The wasp nest is made from wood pulp and once the first drones emerge the Queen will stay inside her nest, laying egg's and building up the nest, like in the picture the Queen builds a horizontal platform of cells with the openings facing downwards. The newly laid wasp egg's stick inside and when they hatch the larvae have little hook like appendages to hold them tight. Visiting wasps will crawl along the top of the lower row of cells, chopping up the insects that they've bought in with them and mixing this with saliva to form a kind of insect porridge.
This porridge is fed to the larvae who in turn feed the wasps with a sweet liquid; the more food bought into the wasp nest means the greater the energy for the Queen and she can lay more egg's. This quickly becomes a form of an insect arms race as each nest grows quickly in size and as they all feed on the same insects the largest most dominant nest in an area will get the lions share of the available insect life. At this stage the nest is growing fast, the Queen will not lay another egg in an old cell, additional layers are built and the nest starts to take a much different shape; as it grows it will need support so branches will sprout out to attach the nest to other points or it will grow around an object like a roof truss in a loft.
There are many drones now involved in building and cleaning the nest and the walls of the nest will become a couple of inches thick as time goes by; all built from wood pulp. You can often see when a nest is in an area by clean strips of wood on fence panels where drones have visited and gnawed a thin piece of wood off to create a new nest. The trend in painting fence panels funky colours can often lead to wasp nests with coloured stripes in the walls as individual wasps visit purple fences and others get their pulp from blue ones.
We have a wasp nest in our loft, are they doing any damage to the woodwork in the loft?
The answer is no, the wood pulp is extremely lightweight and the amount of wood removed from something like a roof truss is negligible.
We have an old wasp nest in the loft should we have it removed?
Again the answer is no, wasps don't re-use nests so any old ones will now be left alone, occasionally we will see a wasp nest that is partially built on the side of an older nest.
There is an old wasp nest in the loft and something has been pulling it apart, what is going on?
If you have mice or rats getting into your loft and the nest is easily accessible then rodents will pull the nest apart looking for anything edible inside.
We have a hole in the lawn and we can see wasps flying in and out, do wasps nest in the ground?
Yes, many species of wasps will nest in old rabbit burrows and its common for wasps to build their own nest underground; these can be a problem for gardeners as the time you'll find this is when your doing something like mowing the lawn or cutting back a hedge. Because the nest is low down you are at high risk of attack so don't try and treat this yourself, call out a professional pest control company.
I can hear a scratching sound coming from the ceiling, is this normal?
As the wasps tend their nest they are continually building, breaking down and re-building the nest and all this activity makes a lot of noise; its not uncommon for people to call us out thinking that they've got mice or rats when its an active wasp nest making the racket.
I've heard that wasps can eat through plasterboard, is this true?
Yes, as the nest grows so the wasps will try to expand the area its in and things like plasterboard, soft insulation and solid insulation boards can all be chewed up by the drones. If you can hear a scratching sound and notice either a damp spot in the plasterboard or a slight bubble appearing - DO NOT TOUCH IT - the only barrier between you and the inside of the nest may just be the thickness of the paint!