HANSON — With a return to hazy and humid summer heat forecast this weekend, Hanson residents will have to find an alternative method of cooling off — Cranberry Cove is closed for the foreseeable future because of sand wasps.
Tarps are covering the beach and yellow caution tape bars people from the beach and kayak launch areas. Police and fire services have also been notified of the closure.
“The beach is probably going to be closed a week, maybe two, while we wait to see if [tarps laid over nests] are enough to get rid of them,” according to Town Administrator Lisa Green, who said the situation was brought to her attention early last week. “It’s not a seasonal closing as of yet.”
Camp Kiwanee has closed off the entire area, including the boat ramps and the parking area with yellow caution tape.
“There were some type of insects flying around the beach over there,” she said. “We don’t want to risk anyone getting stung and having an allergic reaction.”
Two exterminating companies were called and did come to the beach. One said the sand wasps were not their area of expertise, the other put “some type of powders” down, but it did not impact the insects at all, Green said.
“Health Agent Gil Amado brought me out there on Friday [July 30] and the wasps … were literally swarming the higher beach,” Green said. “It looks like a little tornado that they’re swarming in.”
Town officials purchased some large, industrial-strength tarps, as a lot of organic insect experts suggest online, to cover the area and restrict their access to ground nests.
“They would either die or move out,” Green said her research indicated.
While they bear a resemblance, sand wasps found at the cove (species Bicyrtes quadrifasciata), are not as aggressive as their “social” cousin the yellow jacket, according to entomologist Blake Dinius with the Plymouth County Commissioner’s Office. But sand wasps don’t like being disturbed or sudden moves, as one makes while swatting them away.
The major concern is such sudden moves by beach-goers could lead to stings, and problems for people with allergies to bee stings.
“I’m working with the board of health on this topic,” Dinius said in a phone interview Monday, Aug. 2.
“They are almost completely harmless,” he said. “I cannot say they are completely harmless, because if you provoke them enough, they could possibly sting you. … The risk is low, but it’s still there. I just takes is one person that’s allergic, sits on the beach and swats at them.”
For such a person, that one sting could be deadly.
Green said one of the Camp Kiwanee caretakers had been stung.
“My first concern is having anybody — adult or child — getting stung,” Green said.
“I think it’s a smart decision for the town to close off the beach for now,” Dinius said.
Another way sand wasps differ from yellow jackets and hornets is that they do not live in large-colony nests they would aggressively defend. But that difference also points to why the beach was closed.
“If they are under a threat of a danger, that is where you could possibly get stung,” Dinius said. “With people who may be allergic to stings, I can definitely see why the Board of Health would be concerned about this kind of situation.”
The sand wasps — as the name suggests — prefer sandy soil free of vegetation.
“I can almost guarantee you that, if I walk into your yard, I’m going to find sand wasps,” he said. “A large aggregation like is going on at Cranberry Cove is a pretty unique situation that I haven’t ever seen before.”
Dinius said he wonders whether their presence is possibly due to nests in other spots — higher along the Maquan Pond shoreline or in nearby cranberry bogs — being too wet.
“With all the rain we’ve been getting, it makes me wonder if possibly some areas where they used to nest, that water level’s higher, or the vegetation has grown up and over,” he said. “I don’t know.”
He said he is not sure about the efficacy of the tarps, but he said he really does not feel chemical sprays are the answer either from a public health, environmental or cost-efficiency point of view.
“You’re not going to spray your way out of this,” he said.
The wasps don’t have an official common name, but he suggested one based on the “service” they provide.
“You can call them stink bug-eaters,” Dinius said. “I saw them bringing [to their nests in the sand] a lot of the stink bugs that invade people’s homes in the fall and winter.”
A native sand wasp, they are supposed to be in this area, according to Dinius.
Nests consist of a single female and offspring. If one can walk over the nest, they would most likely just buzz around you or fly away.
The sand wasp’s life cycle is 27-44 days in length, with 33 days being the average. They come out in late July and usually last until about the third week of August, but some parts of the country have seen them nesting until November, depending on the weather.
They tunnel in the ground, usually only six to eight inches, forming one to three chambers that are provisioned with multiple stink bugs per egg to feed each developing pupae.
They remember where the nest hole is after burying it to find more food.
“One female is going to have multiple burrows,” he said.