Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Scientists track dangerous wasps

Scientists hope Aucklanders can help them update records about the spread of an unwanted pest that causes severe allergic reactions and poses a danger to the ecosystem. Researcher Darren Ward of Landcare Research wants to track down two species of paper wasps, and has already received calls of several hundred being sighted.

The first species, the Australian paper wasp, has been present in the North Island since the 1880s. The Asian paper wasp was first recorded in the country in 1979. While the wasps are most common in Auckland and Northland, Landcare Research has also recorded the first sighting of the wasp in Central Otago.

"The last records were updated in the 1990s, so we're interested to see if they have spread," said Ward. "We're hoping the public and people interested in bugs will be able to spot them and let us know where they saw them.

" The paper wasps are a threat to biodiversity because they prey on insects, such as caterpillars and butterflies, and also collect their nectar in late summer and autumn. They tend to build their nests in hot summers and, so far, densities of more than 200 nests and 6300 wasps per hectare have been recorded in Northland, with some also in Auckland.

"The danger is that they sting more than other insects and it eats the native insects. For most people who are stung it's just really inconvenient and painful but a few people would need hospital treatment." Ward is hoping to track down the exact locations of where the wasps have been sighted, including the suburb, street, date and where it was spotted.

He is also hoping the public will be able to identify whether the pests are the Asian or Australian paper wasps. The Asian paper wasp is identifiable by its yellow and black colouring, while the Australian paper wasp has a red and brown colouring.

If you spot any of these pests, email Ward on wardda@landcareresearch.co.nz.

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