All posts by Samuel Connolly

Wasps and sting treatment

From now, in mid-August, until the end of September wasps will be around in fairly large numbers. What usually happens is that the nest populations grow steadily over the summer, and by autumn there has been a population explosion leading to too many wasps in most nests. There simply isn’t enough work to go round, so many wasps find themselves at a loose end, and can spend their time foraging for food and getting into mischief. There is currently a superabundance of berries and fruit and this supports these inflated wasp populations. Although wasps don’t go looking for trouble, it is very easy to step on them or have them investigate you or your food, often leading to people being stung.

However, although quite painful, wasp stings can be very easily and quickly treated. The key lies in their venom: wasp stings are alkaloids. This means that simply applying anything acidic to the area of the sting will neutralise it. I have tried a number of acidic foods and discovered that soft drinks are the best of all. In particular Coca Cola, as it is slightly sticky and will adhere to the sting area of the skin. It works like magic, instantaneously taking the pain away. In the old days many people held a sliced onion to the affected area.

You can identify the Common Wasp by the anchor mark on the face. Although there are many very similar species each has a unique face mark, and all have a similar alkaloid venom. These ones have swarmed onto windfall damsons, which are very common in Wicklow at this time of the year.

However, you must be certain that you are applying the remedy to a wasp sting: if you apply it to a bee sting it will only make the sting worse as bee venom is acidic, which requires a different remedy.

The important thing is to identify the insect: the wasps that mostly sting are the so-called “yellow-jackets”, consisting of a number of species, such as the Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris). There are many very similar species, but all can be identified by the markings on their faces, such as the black anchor-shaped mark on the face of the Common Wasp. But all of these wasps use the same type of sting and can be treated with acidic foods or drinks.

The important thing to remember is that these wasps can sting several times, not just once like a honey bee. Also, if you are allergic to stings always seek proper medical attention. However, while waiting for medical attention you can apply a soft drink or juice drink to the sting.

August Colours

As July progressed it became heavy and humid, the air laden with pollen from many flowers. However, this state of affairs changed in August, as it usually does, freshening as the air slowly dries out. This year August began with some rain, and a northerly wind. Soon it will settle, as August always does. Many people consider late August and early September the best time of the year, and take their holidays then. The birds which were very active in spring have their limelight stolen by gorgeous butterflies, such as the Peacock (Inachis io), and gardens, meadows and hedges hum to the whirring beats of hover fly wings.

Peacock butterfly relaxing on a garden bloom.
A beautiful, harmless wasp-mimicking Syrphus ribesii hoverfly, a very common species in August.

Summer of the Hummingbird Moth

This year there is a superabundance of migratory Hummingbird Hawkmoths (Macroglossum stellatarum) in Wicklow. Usually they migrate from southern Europe, but some come all the way from Africa. These beautiful moths seem to fill an identical niche in the European ecosystem to that occupied by hummingbirds in the Americas, although related species of moths that behave similarly are also found over there. Instead of a beak the moth has a macroglossum, or “giant tongue”, which looks and works just like a hummingbird’s beak. And, amazingly, the moth also has tufts that act like, and very closely resemble tail feathers! Look for them on buddleia bushes, honeysuckle, red valerian and along coasts on trefoils. An exotic and magnificent little creature not to be missed.

A Hummingbird Hawkmoth feeding on buddleia blossoms.