Master mimics: not all wasps are as they seem

A Wasp Spider in Avon Gorge

A Wasp Spider in Avon Gorge - Credit: Matt Jones

I was attacked in the Byes by wasps. The bramble bank near the scout hut is made of builder’s rubble and the cavities in it make perfect spaces for wasps’ nests. 

Whilst clearing around baby trees I disturbed a nest and then ran around the Byes with a swarm of wasps following. Luckily, I managed to beat them off without having to jump in the river. Since then I have been wary and curious about any creature with yellow and black stripes.

The wasp family is very extensive, but what we normally think of as wasps are the social wasps. They make papery nests and the queen lays the eggs so the rest of the group don’t need the ovipositor for egg laying; in its place they have evolved a sting.

Because of their stinging ability, a great number of other creatures try to look like wasps. The most convincing are the hornet clearwing moths. On its first flight the usual moth scales fall off the wings, revealing yellow and black stripes and it even buzzes, but is completely harmless.

The Conopid fly is very wasplike. Though harmless to humans, it loiters near knapweed and lays its eggs in red tailed bumble bees, either when the bee is on a flower or in flight. The grubs grow inside the bee eating it up. At this point I am grateful wasps only sting!

I have been told that in the Avon Gorge in Bristol the wasp spider is common. It is quite large, about 2cms, the female has black and yellow stripes, the male is just brown. It is a recent arrival, some say it came from Europe in consignments of fruit, but spiders are also blown around on silken parachutes. David Attenborough says that swifts eat mostly airborne spiders. The wasp spider is harmless to humans; remember, if ever you see one in Sidmouth, know it is not a threat, if ever there was a conjunction of animals to provoke an instinctive feeling of fear, a wasp and a spider might be the worst.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter