Wasp in the classroom

A recent twitter thread reminded me of the perennial issue of the wasp that blithely buzzes into the classroom, instantly derailing the best-planned of lessons. This annual threat seems to occupy the minds of teachers and students alike – I was once asked by the school council in an interview for a senior leadership post what I would do if a wasp flew into the room.

It occurred to me while reading the twitter comments that while teachers may be exercised by how to get rid of insects, in my current role I’m paid to do the exact opposite: visit schools to bring insects INTO the classroom! Let me assure you that after a brief look, we leave wasps, bees and anything else that might get aggravated by a trip indoors well alone and outside. However, this did get me thinking about how entomology can help us tackle that wasp which stumbles into the classroom.

Why MY classroom?

Don’t take it personally. If a wasp, bee or other insect flies into the room it’s either by accident or because it’s been attracted by something. This could be light or food. Many insects will fly towards light and both wasps and bees are attracted to sweet scents. In addition, wasps are also attracted by protein (bees get their protein from pollen). While you probably don’t have a permanent snack buffet in your classroom, food waste often attracts insects. Wasps are usually very purposeful when foraging but in late summer and autumn they can become a little wayward as the social structure of the hive begins to break down.

Preventing wasps coming in

One way of ensuring that wasps don’t come in is to keep the windows shut, but that’s impractical in hot weather and, at the moment, UK government guidance is that windows are kept open to ensure rooms are well ventilated. Even with open windows, we can make sure that our room isn’t actively attracting yellow-striped visitors by making sure any food debris is cleared away. Don’t just leave that banana skin or apple core in the bin, get rid of it entirely. Similarly, an aluminium can in the recycling box might have enough sugary drink left to attract wasps.

What if the wasp is already in?

Depending on the temperament of the class, the appearance of a single wasp might risk instant pandemonium, but there is a lot you can do to head this off.

  • Turn the lights off. On a dim day, your room may be brighter than outside. Switching the lights off reverses this and most insects will head back the way they came.
  • Open all the windows as wide as they can go. This gives the wasp more exit routes. Don’t worry about more coming in, it’s only within a few metres of a hive that there’s a risk other wasps will rally to a distressed sister.
  • Model a calm, collected response (even if that isn’t how you feel!) and encourage this in the children. The wasp won’t hurt anyone unless it feels threatened.
  • Move swiftly but efficiently. Flapping, waving arms or swatting will only aggravate the wasp and make it more likely to sting.
  • If the wasp isn’t leaving, or is repeatedly banging its head against the window, use a glass (or plastic) cup to trap it on a flat surface. Slide a piece of thin card (better than paper) underneath and remove it, safely sealed, outside. Keep these things ready near your desk, just in case.

What’s the point of wasps anyway?

Well, the point of a wasp is to make more wasps, rather than to be useful to us, but they are actually valuable in many ways. They make a significant contribution as pollinators and, as carnivores, they play a role in controlling many insects which are garden pests. So, don’t be tempted to kill a wasp that interrupts your lesson, it doesn’t mean you any harm and it’s doing a good job as part of an ecosystem.

If you enjoyed reading this, you might be interested in my earlier post ‘Does windy weather wind kids up?’

Image: Pixabay

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