How to get rid of wasps when you're eating outside

Here are five ways to get rid of wasps when you're enjoying your food outdoors

Eating outdoors is one of the great joys of summer. If a wasp - or worse, a hornet - decides to join the party, though, a leisurely, sun-soaked lunch can soon turn into a whirlwind of frenzied swiping, jabbing and side-stepping that would look more at home in a boxing ring.

With the weather warming up, would you know what to do if one of these stripy menaces threatened to spoil your enjoyment of the great outdoors? Here's what you need to know.

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Don't get a bee in your bonnet about hornets

Recent headlines about the arrival of the invasive Asian hornet on our shores make for alarming reading. But government figures show that there were only nine confirmed sightings of the Asian hornet in the UK last year. Furthermore, it's our honey bees that have the greatest cause for concern about the presence of these predatory wasps, which have a taste for pollinators.

Defra plant and bee health expert, Nicola Spence, explains: 'While the Asian hornet poses no greater risk to human health than a bee, we recognise the damage they can cause to honey bee colonies and other beneficial insects.'

'Please continue to look out for any Asian hornets,' she adds. 'And if you think you’ve spotted one, report your sighting through the Asian hornet app or online.'

Don't know your hornets from your hoverflies? Hone your skills here.

What to do about wasps

As wasps are still far more likely than hornets to rain on your parade this picnic season, we asked wasp expert Dr Seirian Sumner of University College London to shed light on some commonly held beliefs about these striped gate-crashers. Read on so you know how to keep them at bay this summer.

Wasps are only attracted to sugary food and drinks FALSE

This is only the case at the end of summer. At the moment, wasps are busy hunting insects to feed to their carnivorous young, so they’re less likely to make a beeline – if you’ll pardon the pun – for your ginger beer and fondant fancies, and more likely to be drawn to the meat in your ham sandwich.

Dr Sumner explains: ‘Towards the end of summer, wasp larvae pupate for about a week before emerging as adults. Once there are no more larvae to feed, the workers in the colony have less to do. This is when they tend to bother us.’ Best to get your fix of picnics and lunches on the patio before the end of August, then.

Covering food is the best way to deter wasps TRUE

Discourage wasps when you eat al fresco by keeping the lid on picnic food instead of laying it out, uncovered, in one glorious but insect-friendly spread. If you’re eating at a table, cover food once everyone has been served – this way, wasps are less likely to ‘smell’ it.

Even placing a mesh cloche over food is better than nothing. Although the wasps will still be able to detect whatever is underneath, they won’t be able to get at it and will eventually give up when their picnic-pilfering efforts go unrewarded.

A jammy DIY wasp trap will lure wasps away from your picnic FALSE

Firstly, a beer trap is more likely to be effective. Secondly, our wasp expert reckons this is a high-risk strategy. ‘Beekeepers lay beer traps near hives to lure wasps away and stop them from raiding the colony,’ explains Dr Sumner. ‘It’s possible that putting out a trap like this could lure wasps away but it’s more likely to lure them closer to you.’

Staying still is better than flapping TRUE

If a wasp decides to gate-crash your al fresco lunch, flailing arms and swatting napkins increase the risk both of angering the wasp and upending your glass of rosé – neither of which is desirable. ‘If you’re staying still, you’re not a threat to the wasp. If you’re flapping about, it’s more likely to sting you,’ advises Dr Sumner.

Where one wasp ventures, others follow TRUE

Wasps are team players. When one of them finds a food source, it doesn’t keep the discovery to itself – it returns to the nest to tell its buddies.

Dr Sumner recommends a clever trick: ‘The best thing you can do is isolate the first wasp you see. This is the scout and it’s likely to recruit other wasps. Trap it under a cup or a glass and leave it there.’

Just don’t forget to release it at the end of your meal. And whatever you do, don’t kill it.

Wasps get a lot of bad press compared to their more popular cousins, bees. But they are just as important, pollinating flowers and playing a key role in controlling garden pests such as aphids, caterpillars and flies. And, incidentally, it’s only honeybees that die nobly in defence of the colony once they’ve stung you. We may be suckers for the rotund, fuzzy cuteness of bumblebees, but they can sting repeatedly – just like a wasp.


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