‘Unemployed’, hungry wasps dominated Germany’s summer but the end is in sight

You’re having a picnic in the park with delicious sandwiches, Kartoffelsalat and maybe even a selection of Kuchen. Nothing is going to spoil it...except maybe one tiny thing.

'Unemployed', hungry wasps dominated Germany's summer but the end is in sight
Photo: DPA

Or several tiny things. Sound familiar?

I’m talking about wasps. They are everywhere at the moment, whether they're buzzing around your face when you're sipping a drink in a Biergarten or stepping all over your food while you're eating al fresco. And, if you’re unlucky, you might feel the horrible dull ache of a sting. 

Except it’s not only if you’re eating: just being outside, perhaps near a bin, a shop selling sugary delicacies, or if you’re beside anyone else who’s eating or drinking, you’re also at risk from being terrorized by one of these insects.

Meanwhile, in Düsseldorf, cafes have even lost business because of the influx of wasps.

The Westdeutsche Zeitung reports that the cafe on the terrace of Benrath Palace had to close last Saturday because there were too many of the creatures buzzing around.

If you’ve lived in Germany for many years you’ll know the high number of Wespen (wasps) around this time of year is not unusual. In fact, many Germans don't seem to be phased by the presence of them at all, even when they've been climbing all over their Pflaumenkuchen in the bakery.

But that doesn’t make it any less annoying, and for expats who’re not used to this influx, the presence of so many wasps can be quite intimidating.

We did some research and spoke to biology experts to get the lowdown on wasps in Germany. 

Why are wasps up in our faces all the time?

Apparently, the wasps are bothering us so much this year because they’re hungry and thirsty.

The queen wasps, which are much bigger than the offspring, are now getting ready to head into hibernation and that leaves the worker wasps with lots of free time – so essentially they're unemployed. 

Dr Ralf Einspanier and Dr Benedikt Polaczek, of the Institute of Veterinary Biochemistry at the Free University (FU) in Berlin told The Local: “Due to the larger nest sizes and high numbers, and the fact that the wasps are currently missing their natural feed, these wasps are choosing more human sources like sweet beverages, jam and meat, etc.”

Have you experienced this scene? Photo: DPA

Are there definitely more wasps than usual this year?

Quite simply, yes. You’re not imagining it. 2018 is a record year for wasps thanks to the heat and a mild winter last year.

According to the Westdeutsche Zeitung, the Nature Conservation Union (Nabu) has confirmed that the weather conditions this summer have been perfect for wasps to flourish.

There was no cold spell in June, no flooding and continued heat, which means wasp nests were able to grow bigger.

Düsseldorf exterminator Dirk Kemmerling told the newspaper it was “extreme” this year.

“The population is certainly 10 times as strong as last year,” he added.

Einspanier and Polaczek, agree that the number of wasps has increased this year, which they said was because of the effects of last year.

They told The Local that the wasps had been well fed and had a high water supply in 2017, which has led to more wasps developing.

Einspanier added that the queen wasps, who hibernate over winter and then build nests to share with offspring worker bees in spring, were fitter because of this. And, because last winter was not so cold overall, it increased the survival rate of queen wasps.

What types of wasps are we seeing?

“In Germany there are two species which are most common,” Einspanier said.
They are the German wasp (vespupa germanica – a species found in the northern hemisphere, so not only Germany) and the common wasp (vespula vulgaris – found all over the world). They build their nests typically in sheds, under the attics or in the ground.
The biologists told The Local that these two species are not endangered and therefore their nests can be removed or destroyed, but we wouldn't advise it.
Other wasp species are protected and therefore you can technically receive a fine from €5,000 to 50,000 for killing a wasp or removing a nest under the Federal Nature Conservation Act.
Exterminator Kemmerling warns against destroying a wasp nest yourself. “This can be dangerous,” he said.
How should you behave when wasps are around?
Einspanier and Polaczek advise that people “keep calm and do not disturb the wasps”.
They also said to be extra careful and look out for wasps when you're eating or drinking outdoors to avoid nasty surprises.
Other tips include: not hitting or blowing on wasps, covering sweet and meaty dishes when you're eating them, and keeping children's fingers and mouths clean so they don't attract the insects.
When will the wasps will begin to disappear this year?
“Usually after the first frosty days the majority of wasp workers disappear,” says Einspanier. “The queen will survive but hides away to hibernate in garden sheds, for example” he adds.
The Westdeutsche Zeitung adds that according to the Nature Conservation Union “the wasp population reached its maximum population in August” and now the insects are slowly starting to die due to lack of food and falling temperatures.
In the second half of October the wasps should have completely disappeared, it reports.

Does the world need wasps?

It does. Despite their unfavoured status, wasps are an essential part of biodiversity and are beneficial to agriculture because they feed on harmful flies and other croft-devouring insects. 
Wasps also play a key role in the ecosystem as pollinators. So even though they're quite annoying, we have to be thankful for these pesky creatures who like our Kuchen und Bier as much as we do.  

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