Pulling off a successful summer picnic is a delicate blend of planning and luck. Unexpected rain, inquisitive cattle, wild winds, and swarms of wasps can all spell disaster for even the best-laid plans.
But help may be at hand for those who have suffered the harrowing experience of seeing their picnic pillaged by battalions of determined wasps.
According to experts at the Cheltenham Science Festival, the best means of preventing the stripy insects ruining a tranquil outdoor repast is to take a hostage.
Nimble picnickers who can detain a lone “scout” will apparently prevent the wasp from returning to its nest where it will tell the whole swarm about the gastronomic delights on offer.
While it is not known precisely how wasps communicate, swarms are able to sense when scout wasps have returned to the nest having accessed food.
Dr Serian Sumner, from Bristol University said: “If you can just stop that first wasp getting back to the colony with food material then you have more of a chance.
“We need to do more work on how they communicate, but once back at the nest they will definitely recruit their friends.”
Dr Sumner said wasps tend to be on the lookout for sweet treats later in the summer once their brood of wasp larvae becomes self-sufficient, the Telegraph reports
“They no longer have to provide protein for the brood, so instead of going for arthropods they can go for sugar,” said Dr Sumner.
Despite many species of wasps’ success being built upon gregariousness, they can be a particularly anti-social guest at the picnic table, or indeed, rug. However, wasps are not naturally belligerent and usually only attack in self-defence.
Professor Adam Hart of the University of Gloucester said rather than being malevolent, when wasps begin circling a picnic spot, they are trying to find their bearings.
“They are not aggressive creatures but when you start flapping around they will want to defend themselves,” he said.
He also said that attempting to find a spot where you can avoid wasps is a futile task.
“The reality is that if there’s food about they will find it,” he said.
But while the threat of a wasp sting at a picnic haunts Britons from cradle to grave, wasps’ ecological contributions are considerable.
Wasps are a vital part of many ecosystems, and eat an astonishing range and quantity of beasts and bugs.
Dr Sumner said: “Social wasps will eat anything and they will pretty much go for any kind of material out there and that makes them incredibly valuable to our ecosystem.”
“They control pests and eat the things we hate like spiders and cockroaches.
“A study has shown that 8kg of prey per hectare is taken by the yellow jacket wasp each season.”
She says a rough calculation reveals as much as 14 million kg of insect biomass are removed every summer in the UK by hungry yellow jacket wasps.
“That’s why you should love wasps”, she added.