Danger From Above – Perth’s Wasp Problem

Western Australia has its fair share of pests with which to contend, including a dizzying variety of animals, birds, and insects – many of which are not even indigenous to the continent. The residents of the state are forced to maintain constant vigilance, since many of these bothersome creatures can be harmful to humans, pets, livestock, and even abodes. Among the most troublesome, however, are the insects known as wasps. Unlike most bees and other insects, these flying nightmares can be extremely aggressive, persistent, and difficult to eradicate.

Wasp 960 x 150

The Native Variety

Throughout Australia, there are thousands of species of wasps. Most people wouldn’t know that just based on insects they encounter, since many of these species are so tiny that they escape notice. One of the more well-known native species, however, is quite noticeable. It is called the paper wasp. While they have a reputation for minding their own business, reputations are not always accurate. The fact is that these creatures can and will attack when they feel threatened, or to defend their nests.

Like honeybees, their stings are painful and can create serious complications for people who suffer from an allergy to such things. Unlike honeybees, that sting is not limited to one strike. Honeybee stingers are barbed, and thus they get only one chance to strike their victim. Paper wasps, on the other hand, have the capability to strike their victims repeatedly.

Worse than that is the fact that they can use alarm pheromones to contact other members of their colony. That means that, when they really feel threatened, they can summon a veritable army of their fellow wasps to come and help them defend themselves or their home. That can quickly lead to a situation where a human victim finds himself under assault by an entire swarm of foul-tempered, stinging creatures all intent on doing maximum harm to their perceived enemy. The only good news here is that these wasps tend to form colonies limited to fewer than one hundred creatures.

Dealing with Paper Wasps

Paper wasps are generally more benign in nature than their European cousins, and most experts recommend removing them only in situations where it is impossible to tolerate their presence. These wasps do provide a crucial service in the great outdoors, ridding crops and gardens of troublesome caterpillars and other plant-eating pests. Unless they are found in high-traffic areas, it is often preferable to leave them alone and simply learn to avoid that area.

There are times, of course, when that is impossible. If, for example, you or a family member is allergic to wasp venom, then you obviously need to take measures to completely eliminate any threat that a sting might occur. You also may want to remove them if they have built their nest close to your home, on your porch, or near other areas where you and your family and friends regularly congregate. While they are beneficial in nature, there is such a thing as too close for comfort.

Nests discovered in the early part of the spring can usually be removed without much worry, since the queen’s workers are unlikely to have reached maturity yet. More developed nests, and those found later in the year, require more care since there are more likely to be adults capable of defending against any threat. In either case, it is wise to only attempt removal in the evening hours. Remember, they are at their most active – and aggressive – during the daylight hours.

An Even More Aggressive Import

In a kinder world, that native variety of wasp would be more than sufficient to terrorize the local populace. This is not that kinder world. An invasive species from Europe has been repeatedly seen throughout various parts of Western Australia since it was first discovered in the area back in 1977. Known as the European wasp, this large species of wasp is an extremely social insect that can quickly make life unmanageable anywhere it decides to take up residence.

How bad are they? Across the world, the European wasp is thought by many to be the most troublesome wasp pest on Earth. Once established, their colonies continue to grow until they reach frightening sizes – with some possibly containing as many as 25,000 wasps! They also differ from the paper wasps in ways that make them a true aerial menace to other living creatures – including humans.

While paper wasps tend to drag their backsides behind them and hover in place, moving slowly when they move at all, European wasps move with greater determination and purpose. They keep their legs tight to their bodies as they fly, enabling them to dart around at a far greater speed than their paper wasp cousins.  Like the paper wasp, they are predators and feed on other insects and meat. Unlike those wasps, however, the European varieties are also scavengers – and that can be a real problem.

Their scavenging can lead them to descent onto pet food that is left out on the ground, and to seek out other sources of meat that are often found around human residences. As might be expected, their choice of food source can cause them to come into close contact with humans, and that is never a good situation. In many instances, they even invade homes and businesses, establishing nests in any crack or crevice they can find.

They also sting repeatedly, and have been known to swarm when victims stumble near their nests. Obviously, being attacked by hundreds or even thousands of highly-stimulated European wasps is a recipe for pain and disaster. These attacks can be so severe that they make a paper wasp assault seem tame by comparison.

Efforts to Control European Wasps

The government of Western Australia has spent decades trying to eradicate the European wasp from the area. Success has come at times, but it always seems short-lived as these invaders somehow manage to find their way back to the region. Efforts are also ongoing to better control other wasp species so that residents in Perth and the surrounding environments can be free from the pests.

It is generally accepted throughout Western Australia that the European wasp poses a particular problem for the people who live in the area. They negatively impact the outdoor lifestyle – something that is so much a part of what it means to truly enjoy life in Perth and Western Australia. They impact tourism – something upon which the region relies for its prosperity. Perhaps most importantly, these creatures also threaten the health of human beings and their animal companions and livestock.

For years, the government has utilized trap surveillance systems to provide early warning of the European wasp’s presence, with more than 950 such traps in the Perth area alone when government and volunteer traps are all taken into account. Since 1977, this effort to identify and eradicate wasp pests has resulted in the destruction of some 850 wasp nests. That has enabled Western Australia to boast of its status as the only jurisdiction on Earth to have successfully prevented the European wasp from permanently establishing a presence in the region.

Unfortunately, it is not a battle that can be permanently won – at least not if history serves as a guide. There have been times when it seemed as though the wasps were finally gone for good, only to have new reports come in months later that a new nest had been located. Experts believe that this occurs due to wasps stowing away on shipping that makes its way to Western Australia from the eastern part of the country where these pests have gained a stronger foothold.

How You Can Help to Limit Their Spread

In addition to the government-run efforts to eradicate these pests, residents in the Perth area are also encouraged to join the region’s Adopt a Trap program. That program enables members of the public to utilize surveillance traps in their own backyards and fields so that they can assist in the process of monitoring European wasps that might make their way into the area, particularly during the months between December and May – when these pests are at their most active. Traps can be placed in trees, use bait such as raw fish, and remain in place so that they can be inspected periodically.

When you need to remove a European wasp nest, apply the same general principles used in handling paper wasp nests. Never approach them in daylight, since wasps will be actively moving in and out of the area, and will be more aggressive toward intruders. Only take action at night, using chemical sprays designed to kill the creatures on contact. And follow all of the directions to the letter, since they are there for your protection and the protection of others and the environment.

The Safest Approach

As tempting as it can be to try to remove wasp nests on your own, a more practical course of action involves contacting actual professionals. Pest removal experts have the tools, experience, and expertise needed to ensure that the entire colony is removed so that the creatures will trouble you no more. And since these experts have experience managing not only wasp nests but also the chemicals used to extract them, you can have your pests removed without undue concern that you may misuse pesticides or other chemicals and thereby harm yourself, your family, or your pets.

Wasps can be beneficial to the local ecology, but there is no disputing the fact that they make poor companions for people when found in close proximity to human settlements. By knowing which wasps to avoid and which to remove, you can better protect your family and your home from these potentially dangerous pests.