Blawhorn Moss NNR
On a beautifully sunny Saturday at Blawhorn Moss, it was a joy to hear and see all the life surrounding us. Winter and spring felt quite quiet on Blawhorn. Being situated at a higher altitude than Flanders, things generally take a little longer to kick off. You also usually need an extra layer on. But now everything is waking up! The flowers are beginning to bloom and cottongrass shone out against the bog. Great spotted woodpeckers could be seen flitting between beech trees. Butterflies and bees fluttered from flower to flower.
And as we took a seat on the bench overlooking the moss, we found a little wasp hard at work.
The species of wasp we are probably most familiar with in the UK is the yellow-jacket or common wasp (Vespula vulgaris). A creature known to all and disliked by many – it’s reputation as an aggressive little stinging machine precedes it. But how much truth is there to this? And is this the only wasp around?
A possible reason for their reputation as being more ‘stingy’ than bees may stem from the fact that, unlike the honeybee, wasps do not lose their stingers or die once they have stung you, and can therefore sting multiple times if provoked. They are also able to release an alarm pheromone when under threat that will cause nearby wasps to come and help – honeybees also do this. Realistically, the more of a threat a wasp perceives you to be – something that can be escalated by running and flapping about – the more likely it is to sting you, just like a bee.
And like bees, there are far more species of wasp in Britain than you probably realise! Only six species are social wasps, nesting together in colonies like the yellow-jacket. Far more are solitary – thousands, in fact! They range in size from tiny, fly-like gall wasps that lay their eggs within tree leaves, to the giant wood wasp, whose harmless ovipositor (the organ used for egg laying) mimics a rather frighteningly large stinger.
Adult wasps do often predate on other species which make them fantastic at pest control – but they don’t actually eat their prey themselves. Instead, they chew it up and then pass it on to their young – much like a mother bird bringing worms back to her nest. Adult wasps themselves enjoy a bit of a sugar binge on the nectar from plants. This makes them very good indirect pollinators – as they travel from flower to flower to feed, they pick up pollen and allow the plants to reproduce – but also a bit of a pest during picnics. It’s not just people that find sugary food and drinks irresistible!
The wasp we shared a seat with is a social wasp. Munching away at our bench, they mix the bark with their saliva to create nest material. In early summer, you will see larger queen wasps doing this to begin creating a small nest. Once her eggs have hatched, the worker wasps will then also join in, extending the size of the nest to make room for more offspring.
If you look closely, you can see the exact points at which the wasps have been nibbling away, as they leave little chew trails behind them! Turn your ear close and you can hear a faint clicking from their jaws as they work! As we sat admiring their efforts, they left us be too. Far more concerned with getting the task at hand completed, rather than worry over a couple of harmless humans.