Is it a wasp? Is it a hornet? Identify those bugs with our expert guide

2021 is expected to be a lean year for wasps, says Robert Morgan of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust

2021 is expected to be a lean year for wasps, says Robert Morgan of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Most people regard bees as hard-working insects that don't intentionally do harm, but most other insects that fly through the air seem to have a bad reputation.

They're unwanted pests that annoy us when we picnic, suck our blood or leave big welts on our legs when we're out and about enjoying nice weather.

But they can't all be bad, can they?

Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve officer Robert Morgan says most of the insects we regard as pests can be avoided or repelled and probably our biggest summer pest - the wasp - is actually doing a very important job.

He said: "There are probably 8,000 species of hymenopterans in the UK (the largest group of any insect in the UK) - that's wasps, bees and ants and probably millions more worldwide that we just don't know about.


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"Butterflies and other large insects can act as a host for these creatures so they are very good at keeping other species down and, in turn, they are good at ensuring the ecosystem is in equilibrium.

"Without wasps keeping other creatures down there could be depleted crops so, although they annoy us, especially when we're eating food outside, they are here for a reason.

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"In general, insects are in decline but their numbers are not closely monitored. We have good years for wasps and lean years for wasps - they come in cycles and the good news is that 2020 and 2021 look like lean years, although that could mean that next year there are far more of them about.

"Numbers normally are at their peak in August / September, with September being the time they are most bothersome. 

"We have noticed far fewer wasps and hornets this summer. This maybe a result of fewer queens surviving hibernation due a late cold snap or a wet cold spring. Although It does appear to be rather circular,  based on disease and parasite burden."

Here Robert gives the lowdown on the five airborne pests you may encounter this summer:

The scourge of many a picnic - buy wasps actually do an important job in the ecosystem

The scourge of many a picnic - buy wasps actually do an important job in the ecosystem - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Wasps
"There is so much more to wasps than people think, they are important pollinators who are doing an important job but they get a bit of a bad press.

"They're more common in autumn - essentially after they've done their important breeding job, they are free to go and most of them tend to spend those late summer months feeding on fallen fruit so they often fly around literally drunk on fermented fruit, which may explain why they can be more pest-like.

"If you mess around near a wasp or disturb a nest and anger one, they will spray a pheromone on you which identifies you as a target to other wasps. It really is best sit quietly and let them move on.

"I think there's a sense that we want nature to be compliant and to stay where it should, we don't like nature with attitude which is what wasps have!"

The fen mason wasp, found only in Norfolk

The fen mason wasp, found only in Norfolk - Credit: Tim Strudwick

Fen mason wasp
"Something Norfolk should be proud of is the fen mason wasp. This was thought to be extinct but is exclusively found in Norfolk at Hickling Broad and Upton Broad. It seems a relic population has been sustained and in 1986 they came back.
"They dig little holes in the ground which forms small chimneys, which you will see along footpaths."

Hornets won't look to sting humans, but can, and will leave a nasty bite

Hornets won't look to sting humans, but can, and will leave a nasty bite - Credit: Library

Hornets
"Hornets look fierce and they don't normally look to sting, they tend to keep themselves to themselves really. We have seen the arrival of Asian Hornets which like to feed on the carcasses of dead animals and other insects but they don't tend to bother humans.
Some insects like to mimic wasps in order to put off other predators so what you may think is a wasp might not always be so."

The horsefly prefers to bite livestock, but will see humans as a soft option

The horsefly prefers to bite livestock, but will see humans as a soft option - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Horseflies
"They tend to peak in July and August, they like really hot weather. We also have the Cleg fly which can give a nasty bite.

"Horseflies are built to scratch the skin to make it bleed and you will often see them around livestock like horses and cows as they are bigger targets. But they know that human skin is easier to penetrate so won't have a problem looking at us as a soft option."

Mosquitos are attracted by our breath - and prefer to target men over women on children

Mosquitos are attracted by our breath - and prefer to target men over women on children - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Mosquitos
"If you're out on the Broads this summer you will need some repellent as they around, especially when its warm and wet. They prefer to target adults over children as they are attracted to the carbon dioxide in adult's breath. And they actually prefer men to women as men have a more pungent odour which they are attracted to.

"Mosquitos have a straw which takes blood through the human skin although they actually obtain the blood through the human body's blood pressure releasing it. 

"Apparently if you see a mosquito on your body and if you pinch the area around it, the mosquito will explode with the pressure of the blood - essentially it is unable to stop drinking until it bursts."


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