How much cider does it take to get a wasp drunk is not, as it turns out, a riddle. Rather, it's a real problem, considering the answer is “very little” and the result is irritable, sting-happy wasps.
Recently, the Daily Mail (stay with me) proclaimed that, “Britain is under attack from 'lager lout' wasps who are going on stinging rampages after getting drunk on fermented fruit and leftover pub-garden cider,” which is big, if true. Their story cites the Sussex Wildlife Trust, so we reached out to the British conservation charity ourselves to find out whether this was indeed a whole new way that the world just sorta sucks.
Charlotte Owen, a ‘Wildcall Officer,’ explained that drunk wasps are indeed an issue, but that this is in fact a regular, annual phenomenon of wasps worldwide.
The zoological explanation has to do with a quirk of wasp dietary habits. Worker wasps, who cannot reproduce, spend their lives sourcing food for the growing larvae back in the nest. The adult wasps, however, cannot actually digest the invertebrates that serve as baby food and instead subsist on flower nectar and a “sugar-rich spit” produced by the larvae. Towards the end of the summer, the nectar starts to dry up just as the nest reaches capacity and the Queen wasp stops laying more larvae—and suddenly, there’s not enough food for all the worker wasps, who start scrounging for other sources of sustenance. They’re particularly drawn to fallen, fermenting fruit and sugary beverages like beer and cider. And, according to Owen, “anything alcoholic will of course have a similar effect on their systems as it does on ours,” so the wasps get, quite literally, drunk on “a quick sip of cider.”
This means not only that wasps are hanging around alfresco aperitifs more than usual in search of some sugar, but also that those wasps are likely to get soused and start stinging. If you’ve ever thought that wasps seem like significantly more of a nuisance at the very end of summer, you should feel vindicated.
It’s possible, too, that the problem is especially pronounced this year in Britain if, as the Daily Mail claims, weather conditions indeed caused wasp season to start several weeks earlier than usual, in turn putting the nests at maximum capacity earlier. Elsewhere, the extreme heatwaves and droughts of this summer could be causing nectar-producing flowers to wither, leaving wasps hungrier for a sip of your drink.
Which might be ok, if only they could learn to hold their alcohol.