New Zealand green-lipped mussels might hold the key to controlling that dreaded summer insect – the wasp.

Scientists at Plant & Food Research have been trying to identify new ways to control wasps in beech forests, where the insects have a detrimental effect on native fauna. However, the breakthrough came while two members of the research team were on a fishing expedition.

“We couldn’t help noticing how attracted the wasps were to the mussels we were using as fish bait,” says Project Leader Dr Ashraf El-Sayed. “Being scientists, we looked into it.”

The research team, including visiting Professor Rikard Unelius from Linneaus University in Sweden, investigated the smell produced by the mussels and identified a mixture of compounds that were highly attractive to the wasps. The team believe that these compounds could form the basis for a new generation of control methods for wasps.

“Vespid wasps are highly abundant in New Zealand’s indigenous beech forests, due, in part, to the vast supply of honeydew, which is also a major food source for native birds and insects,” says Dr El-Sayed. “Traditionally, wet cat food has been used as bait, but this degrades rapidly and has to be replaced often. By identifying new compounds that attract wasps, we can control them more effectively. Using compounds from New Zealand mussels may provide a sustainable method for controlling these insect invaders.”

The research is published in the Journal of Applied Entomology and was funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.