No, wasps didn’t write this.
Scientists are defending the much-hated wasp.
They say they are predators of pest insects, they make antibiotics in their venom, and much more.
The first major scientific review of what wasps do has taken place.
The review looked at 33,000 known species of hunting wasps. That sounds terrifying but it means they carry stings and live in every corner of the world.
A Bad Name
Yellowjackets and hornets are the ones that give wasps a bad name.
However, they only make up a small proportion of wasps.
It’s also found that they eat caterpillars and other pests on vegetable patches.
Wasps could even help cure cancer according to the report. Yellowjacket venom is currently being investigated as a promising cancer treatment.
Prof Seirian Sumner at University College London says: “When I tell strangers I study wasps they go ‘oh, what’s the point of wasps?’,”
“Why don’t you study bees instead? They’re much more useful.”
Her previous research showed people hated wasps because they don’t know what they do for us.
“We’re quite happy with the idea that bees sting, because we know that they do good in the world,” she said.
“So we have gathered the evidence available to put wasps on the map in terms of their ecosystem services. Wasps could be just as valuable as other beloved insects like bees, if only we gave them more of a chance.”
There are 100,000 known wasp species, but 70,000 are parasitic. That means they are are stingless.
In comparison, there are about 22,000 species of bees.
“Wasps are the ancestor of bees, so bees are wasps that have forgotten how to hunt,” said Sumner.
Social vs Solitary
“Solitary wasps are super cool. Their venom has an incredible cocktail in it that paralyses the prey and also has lots of antibiotics in it,” said Sumner.
This is gross but interesting: many solitary wasps bury their eggs with paralysed prey to provide food once they hatch.
“So they want to make sure the food is properly preserved,” says Sumner.
They also found that wasps visit at least 960 plant species.
Of those species, 164 were completely dependent on them for pollination.
Scientists realise that persuading people to love wasps will be difficult because they’ve been hated for a long time.
Ancient Greek polymath Aristotle wrote that “hornets and wasps … have nothing divine about them as the bees have”.
The scientists said: “We look forward to a future where the critical roles of wasps in multiple facets of human health and wellbeing are recognised.”
Meanwhile, Sumner said she was very careful to avoid being stung.
She used gaffer tape to seal up her bee suit: “They get in places that bees would never think of. But I did have a student who got stung 186 times. He gave them a credit in his PhD thesis.”
Sumner loves wasps so much that she uses a picture of one for her Zoom calls. She uses the name “WaspWoman” on social media.
“If anything, bees are just fat and furry.”
Do you like wasps?
Image via Alamy