Yes, there are more wasps than usual buzzing around the Fort Saskatchewan area right now.
 
Reports continue to pop up of people finding the flying insects and their nests under sidewalks and front steps and in trees, yards and local parks. According to an Edmonton entomologist, we have the nice summer to thank for this year’s booming wasp population.
 
"Wasps definitely like warm weather," said Matthias Buck, an assistant curator of invertebrate zoology at the Royal Alberta Museum who specializes in wasps. "When the weather is warm and when it's sunny, they're able to forage more."  
 
Extra time for foraging means plenty of food for hungry wasp larvae. The sunny days also bring the insects out to find more nest-building materials.
 
"So that is definitely favourable for them," Buck said.
 
Annual ups and downs in insect populations are normal, Buck added. Wasps are having a good year in the capital region, but he still pegs their numbers at no more than the "above average" level.
 
Alberta is home to 14 different species of yellow jacket wasps that sort into two major groups. One group likes to build nests in high-up places like trees and under the eaves of roofs. The other tends to hide out in holes in the ground and other out-of-the way spots.
 
"So you won't see the nests, you just see the hole where they're flying in and out," Buck explained.
 
This more elusive bunch of wasps also make themselves comfortable under decks and in walls, attics, sheds and other "dark situations."
 
Wasps start over fresh every year, with lone queens staking out new nesting spots each spring after a winter of safely hibernating.
 
"Then they keep growing throughout the summer until they reach, in a good year, several hundred at the end of summer. So you could have a good size wasp nest -- it could have 500 individuals in it," Buck said.
 
Even 500 wasps shouldn’t be a problem when it comes to potential stings. Wasps are not naturally aggressive except towards their usual prey of other insects, Buck said. Aside from the occasional accident – a wayward wasp landing in someone’s drink or in their clothing -- there’s typically only one type of situation where people can expect wasps to get a little unruly.
 
"And that's when you get too close to their nest."
 
Predators like bears enjoy making a meal of wasp grubs. When wasps sense a threat, they release alarm pheromones to alert others in the colony.

"The alarm pheromone is also released when they sting. So it's sort of a bit like you have a target painted on you," Buck said.
 
Get away from the nest as quickly as you can, Buck advises anyone who becomes a wasp target. The wasps won’t stay at the chase for long.
 
"Once you're out of their perimeter, whatever it might be, then they will leave you alone."
 
With fall on the way, wasp season will soon be over in Fort Saskatchewan. Nearly all wasps die at the end of summer, leaving only young queens to survive the winter and build homes somewhere new in the spring.
 
"By chance there might be a nest being established close to an old one from the previous season," Buck said. "But that's more sort of a chance event. It's not by design."
 

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