“They’re everywhere. Everyone’s been complaining about them this year.”
Curtin University ecological entomologist Kit Prendergast said more research would have to be done before it could be proven whether the fires had affected wasp numbers in East Gippsland.
But she said introduced species, including European wasps, were able to adapt well to changed environments.
“They can rebound quickly,” she said. “The fact they have been able to colonise and spread across Australia from other countries means they are very adaptable.”
Ms Prendergast urged residents to take photos of the wasps to determine whether they were natives or the introduced European variety.
Mallacoota resident John Beard said he recently destroyed nine wasp nests within a 100-metre radius at his property on the outskirts of town.
“The first nest I got, I was stung about five times,” he said.
Mr Beard said he started to notice increased wasp activity about a month ago. He destroyed the nests with a foam spray.
Professor Mark Elgar from Melbourne University’s school of biosciences said a seasonal increase in wasps might help explain the reports of surging numbers in Mallacoota, but the role of the fires would need to be researched.
He said some wasp nests may have been able to withstand the fires and an abundance of food may be drawing them to residential areas.
“Wasps might be able to nest in areas where they’re less vulnerable to fire,” Professor Elgar said.
“Wasps have few predators. They’re not the sort of prey that many birds willingly capture.”
Professor Elgar said European wasps were both a nuisance to people and harmful to the environment.
“They’re a scourge on the landscape. They’re an invasive species.”
Victorian Farmers Federation beekeeping branch president John Edmonds said wasps tended to emerge as a problem in various parts of the state.
He said the recent bout of relatively dry weather made for enhanced breeding conditions for some species, including European wasps.
He said the vast majority of wasp nests could be found in the ground in Australia, while in Europe they tended to nest in walls and roofs.
“As a result, when we have thunderstorms and wet summers the nests get drowned and they die.”
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Benjamin is The Age’s regional editor. He was previously state rounds reporter and has also covered education for The Age.