THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Sound and vision blog

20 November 2018

In the depths of a wasp nest

Cheryl Tipp, Curator of Wildlife & Environmental Sounds writes:

The Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) gets a pretty bad rap. We’re all in love with bees but, when it comes to wasps, we’re not so enamoured. To be fair, they don’t help themselves. They fall into your pint, pester you at picnics and seem to sting you just for the hell of it. Despite these little niggles, wasps do play an essential role in the smooth running of our ecosystems.

As predators they help control pests which would otherwise wreak havoc in our crop fields and gardens. Their quest for nectar makes them valuable pollinators too; as they move from flower to flower, they transfer life-giving grains of pollen that become stuck to their hairy bodies.

Martin Cooper_1200px-Common_Wasp_(Vespula_(Paravespula)_vulgaris)_(8655493612)

Their social lives are just as interesting. Every spring the queen emerges from hibernation and goes in search of a suitable site for the colony’s new nest. Once selected, she begins to lay the foundations of the nest, using chewed wood fibres to create a core into which she will eventually lay her eggs. Upon hatching, the newly-developed adults take over the building of the nest, leaving the queen to oversee the colony and produce more eggs.

The following recording takes you into the very heart of a working wasp nest. The constant buzz and crackle of activity is accompanied by a repetitive fluttering of wings as workers busy themselves with fanning the nest's precious eggs. This fanning action helps circulate the air inside the nest, providing a fresh and cool environment for the colony to thrive in.

Wasp nest activity recorded in Dorset, England on 1 Aug 2000 by Kyle Turner

Though it seems unlikely that wasps will ever hold the same place in our hearts as bees do, there can be no doubt that these little insects are a fascinating and essential part of the natural world. So the next time a wasp takes a keen interest in your beer or slice of sponge, try not to judge it too harshly.

Follow @CherylTipp and @soundarchive for all the latest news. This recording is being preserved as part of the Library's Unlocking our Sound Heritage project.

UOSH_Footer with HLF logo