While winter isn’t quite done with us yet, we’ve had a good period of warmth recently. Wasps, as well as bears, are waking from their winter hibernation. I’ve seen a few queen paper wasps scouting for new nesting sites.
With this in mind, if you want to control wasps in or around your property, the time to start is now. If you can catch and kill the wasp version of a queen, you’ll stop her whole colony from bothering you the rest of the summer.
(A wasp queen is called a “gyne”, which means “woman” in ancient Greek. Gynes are quite large – perhaps twice the size of a standard wasp. Gynes are the wasps most likely to not die in hibernation.)
While most paper wasps will try to hibernate through the winter (the reason we see them moving indoors in fall), most are unsuccessful. Most wasp queens have to start anew in spring, building their new colonies (and sometimes their nests) from scratch.
Raising kids can be hard work, as any parent can tell you. It’s no different for wasps. As gynes start building their new nest, and laying their first eggs of the season, they spend most of their time looking for food for their young.
(A gyne’s first eight or so children are called “haplogynes” meaning “half-women” – these are about half as large again as a standard wasp. These haplogynes take over caring for their little siblings, leaving the gyne free to lay more eggs and expand the nest.)
Developing wasp larvae, just like developing human children, need diets rich in protein to grow and build muscle tissue. As such, a gyne caring for her first batch of larvae will spend much of her time looking for meat to feed them with. Later in the year, wasp larvae will often be fed caterpillars. But early on, carrion forms much of the available meat.
If you want to control your wasp problem before it starts, consider setting a wasp trap and baiting it with a bit of leftover meat and letting it spoil. If you manage to catch and kill a gyne, or her crew of haplogynes, you’ll have won a war before giving it a chance to start.
(Bear in mind, we do live in an area with bears, who are also beginning to leave hibernation. Be bear aware, and cautious in your use of meat to bait wasp traps.)