Wasps and hornets swarm Fort McMurray in wake of wildfire
During the weeks when Alberta's oilsands city was a ghost town, swarms of wasps and hornets moved in
"I feel like a prisoner in my own home."
"I almost had a psychotic break myself trying to kill ones this morning ... ."
A buzzing anxiety has gripped the city of Fort McMurray.
A black mass of wasps, hornets and all kinds of stinging insects have swarmed into the northern Alberta community.
People who have returned to the wildfire-ravaged city have been terrorized by the pests, and social media is humming with close-encounters, and tips about the best extermination methods.
Nests have cropped up on countless porches and patios; some colonies have even made themselves at home inside long-abandoned homes.
Peter Heule, an entomologist at the Royal Alberta Museum, thinks the unwelcome guests were lured in by the quiet of the temporary ghost town, then left to their own devices too long.
"It's been weeks, a month, where the wasps could build and do whatever they want to do. So the wasps have been building nests, because this is the time of year that they're naturally doing that.
"And the wasps may very well have chosen those sites because it didn't seem like there was any kind of human disturbance. And now they are hassling people.
"I don't see that it's related to the wildfire as much as it is related to the evacuation."
Garbage left to rot during the evacuation could have also been a factor. Flies drawn by the stench of decomposition in alleyways across the city would have made a perfect meal for the carnivorous creatures.
Yes, wasps — unlike their nectar-loving cousins — eat meat.
"They tend to be more interested in caterpillars and that kind of thing, but there is a wide variety of wasps, with a wide variety of tastes."
Good season for stingers
Though wasps have made their presence known in Fort McMurray, populations of all kinds of stinging insects have been plentiful across Alberta, because of the hot, dry conditions.
"In a dry year, it's always going to be better for the wasps," said Heule
"You have to think of it as a trade off. It's either a bad mosquito year or it's a bad wasp year, so we're seeing lots of wasps across the province right now."
What can people do to rid their homes of this scourge?
Forget poison, Heule advised. If you must kill them, drown them out instead.
"A good, high-pressure garden hose with the gun on the end is just as effective as any kind of pesticide," said Heule.
"They will flush from that nest and they're going to chase after you, but at least you're not soaking your own environment with toxins."
But even the most extreme methods will never totally rid a yard of the insects, and Heule suggested people learn to love the buzzing swarms.
"We don't like wasps," said Heule. "But you don't realize, they're there because there is food for them. And they are a very important part of the ecosystem."
"And they'll always come back. Don't start a battle you can't win."