Thursday 8 May 2008

The stings in paradise

The sun is shining in a blue sky, in my garden the grass and leaves are a lush verdant, white petals are falling like soft confetti from my blossoming apple tree and the scent of flowers wafts gently on a warm breeze.

The past week of glorious weather has been wonderful after our drab, wet spring. I feel as though a few days of summer have transported me to a fairyland paradise - or perhaps a scene from an old Timotei advert.

Yet every paradise has its hidden stings - and there are plenty of those to be found in my garden. I am itching all over from gnat bites and squadrons of wasps are hovering in the air, just waiting for the chance to strike.

Bees and wasps, of course, look rather similar. You can easily tell them apart if you get up close - bees are furrier and have pollen baskets on their back legs - but who really wants to get up that close unless they have to?

Wasps are generally seen as vicious thugs. They can sting repeatedly, unlike bees, which leave their stinger stuck in their victim once they have attacked. Wasps are easily angered and will not hesitate to sting if they feel like it. It is easy to understand why people would want to destroy every wasps' nest they find and, if possible, eradicate them from our lovely gardens.

But wasps do hold a valuable place in ecology. They kill a huge number of flies and other bugs. This helps prevent plagues of insects, which could be occur this year because mosquitoes, midges and similar pests flourish in the kind of warm, damp weather we have had recently. Wasps are also one of the few natural predators of the bug that causes Dutch elm disease.

It is easy to tell the difference between a wasps' nest and a bees' nest. Wasps build their nests out of papery wood pulp, whereas bees construct their nests out of wax. If you see a nest, do not smash it up or try to move it - that will only anger the wasps. Avoid spraying chemical insect killers over it too, that will probably not kill the wasps but can be harmful to other creatures. If possible, just leave the nest where it is and remember that those vicious wasps are probably helping nature more than us vicious humans.

There are quite a few natural insect repellents. Citronella is an essential oil that is commonly used to deter insects. Lavender oil also repels insects and can help reduce mild swellings from mosquito bites or wasp stings. Geranium leaves are also reputed to be good for wasp stings. If you are stung by a bee, wasp or other insect and experience more than a mild irritation you should seek medical advice from a GP or casualty department or call NHS Direct on 08454647.

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