FSW Research Group Journeys into a Wasps Nest

May 19, 2015

MAY 19, 2015 – LABELLE, FLA – While most people would run away at the first sight of a wasp’s nest, Dr. Henry Hermann, Florida SouthWestern State College biology professor, runs toward it.

Dr. Hermann has studied paper wasps for 30 years and recently introduced a group of his biology students to the insect.

“We were interested in the defensive behaviors of four species of paper wasps,” said Dr. Hermann. “It’s important to help others understand where they make their nests and how they behave before they sting to keep people safe.”

According to Dr. Hermann, wasps often build their nests under houses, inside old sheds and barns, under palmetto tree leaves, and inside electrical panels, which can be dangerous for workers.

When the group would find a nest, they’d set up a video camera to record the wasps’ behavior. They found that the wasps behaved differently when someone or something approached a nest.

“There's a certain area around a nest where wasps will begin intimidation behaviors,” said Timothy Kelting, FSW biology student. “They'll turn toward you, open their wings, try and look threatening, and will only fly out at you as a final measure. Even then, they might not even try to sting.”

“Of course at first there was a fear of getting stung, but the research focus on the wasps was very appealing to me,” Kelting said. “As the research went on, I became acclimated to being near them and knowing how they react. They're more likely to chase you if you run, for example. Or they prefer darker colors, so wearing black isn't an especially good idea.”

Not all wasps are dangerous, however, and they play an important role in the environment.

“Wasps help keep other insect populations under control, and they help keep away pestiferous caterpillars that can do damage to our flower and vegetable gardens,” Dr. Hermann said. “And some species aren’t aggressive or dangerous to have around.”

The results of the group’s research were cataloged and submitted to the Florida Entomologist journal, so that other researchers can add and compare their findings to it in hopes of one day creating a complete defensive plan.

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Florida SouthWestern State College is Southwest Florida’s largest and one of the most affordable institutions of higher education. Annually serving more than 22,000 students globally, FSW offers a variety of nationally-ranked, career-focused academic programs with two- and four-year degrees, and professional certifications. Students are also active in clubs and programs catered to their interests. FSW will debut its intercollegiate athletics program in the fall 2015. Visit www.FSW.edu for more information.