Un-bee-lievable! Swarm of wasps invades Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6

The Brooklyn Paper
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Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6 has become the city’s biggest bee hive — terrifying parkgoers and forcing officials to shutter the popular sandpit for five days last month in a vain attempt to get the stinging pests to move along.

Last month, digger wasps commandeered the giant sandbox at the foot of Atlantic Avenue, and the play area was actually closed between July 21 and 26 as staffers tried to shoo the superflies with mint oil, a substance that can kill wasps yet remain benign to humans (especially those with rum on hand).

When that didn’t work, park staff started raking the sand each day, trying to dislocate the harrowing pests.

Yet the wasps have remained sand hogs.

The good news is that these bugs — which sometimes goes by its nom de doom, bembix oculata — are hardly killer bees.

But experts say there’s nothing to fear — these docile, albeit hair-raising bugs are common at city sandboxes and volleyball courts.

“If you don’t like them, move away from them,” said Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an urban entomologist at Cornell University.

Sounds reassuring, until you hear about the lifestyle of the digger wasp. A solitary predators, bembix oculata stings and paralyzes other insects and stores them in burrows where they lay their eggs. When the newborns hatch the following year, they feed on the captured bugs.

There are 130 species of digger wasps, but Gangloff-Kaufmann said the one-inch pest in Sandbox Village is likely the sand wasp which is yellow and black.

It looks to much like a bee for most parents.

“Now that I know about the wasps, I’ll think twice about coming back,” said Borough Park parent Francisca Siles, whose daughter Miyah Rivera played in the sand on Monday afternoon.

Park officials said that there’s nothing to worry about.

“The sandbox is safe and parents should only caution children not to pursue or handle the wasps,” said Ellen Ryan, a Brooklyn Bridge Park spokeswoman. “We will continue to monitor it closely and evaluate whether the nuisance worsens.”

Evidence is mixed. The mega-playground at the foot of Atlantic Avenue also includes a dog run, water play area, rooftop concessions and sand volleyball courts — though there haven’t been reports of wasps there.

And this invasion may be temporary.

Phil Pellitteri, an entomologist at the University of Wisconsin, said he often tells people to let the wasp’s two- to three-week nesting period run its course.

“Practically, there’s not much people can do without using pesticides,” Pellitteri said. “Who wants to put that in a children’s sandbox?”

Still, some local kids and adults aren’t worried.

“I’m a big girl, and I cannot be afraid of wasps,” said 4-year-old Sasha Brod of Carroll Gardens, who played in the sand with her dad, Doug Brod.

Prospect Heights parent Anna Hart, who took her 6-year-old son Markus to the sandbox, said other parks are also crawling with wasps.

“People are overprotective about nature,” Hart said. “There’s only so much you can do.”

Updated 11:14 am, August 2, 2011
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