Country: Nature Note

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The Independent Culture
THIS IS proving a bumper year for wasps - not because of the weather, which has been very mixed, but because the population fluctuates in seven- year cycles, and we are now near the peak of the latest. During the summer, wasps convert wood into a kind of paper to build their nests: made from rotten wood or weathered surfaces of shed doors or fence-posts. These nests can reach up to six feet across, and house up to 3,000 workers.

Only female wasps can sting; but, unlike bees, they have un-barbed stings and can make repeated thrusts. Wasps' main food consists of insects. At about this time of year they become lazy and favour sweet things such as rotting apples.

Almost the entire colony dies out in late autumn. Only a minute proportion of the queens - fewer than one per cent - gets through the winter, which they survive by hibernating under the bark of trees, in leaf-litter or curtains.