As summer starts to wind down, you might notice a few more black and yellow insects flying around in the southeast.

That's because wasps have begun the process of gathering food for their colonies as cooler temperatures approach.

"It's that late summer switch of the colony from producing workers to producing next year's queens and males," said Cory Sheffield, who works as a curator of invertebrate zoology with the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and studies wasps as part of his job. "I wouldn't say they're necessarily more aggressive, it's just that there's more of them that are out there trying to get food."

Sheffield added that wasps are natural hunters and will collect a wide variety of food sources, whereas bees get all of their protein from pollen.

"They're going to get other insects, if they find dead fish or dead animals they'll often chew meat off of that and use it to feed the young," he said. 

"Once these queens are dedicated to full-time egg laying, they just lay eggs continuously and the workers that emerge as adults...they will start nest care. They will forage for the young, they'll come back and feed the young. And when you have enough of these workers doing that, the colony is going to get bigger and bigger and bigger," he said.

"It eventually will reach a point that the queen's egg laying will switch from being workers to starting to lay eggs that are going to be next year's queens and males." 

Because they're looking for food everywhere, wasps are often attracted to outdoor activities that involve food, and in particular, sugary drinks.

"People unsuspectingly will tip back their can of pop and they'll get stung in the mouth or throat because there's a wasp in the can, so if you use a straw you sort of can prevent that. Even if you pour it into a glass where you can see if there's anything in there, you sort of reduce that risk," Sheffield said.

"They're not out to get you, but they are out to get food. And if they perceive you as being something trying to prevent them from doing that...I don't think they're really going to sting you unless you actually hit them or inadvertently get them in your mouth," he said.

Sheffield also gave some other safety suggestions for people to employ:

  • Destroy nests before they get too big
  • Put spray foam in cracks or block off areas that could serve as prime nesting spots
  • Try not to panic when they're flying near you
  • Don't swat at them
  • Don't walk in bare feet on grass