On the whole, people hate wasps. Unlike their furry cousins, bees, they tend to be swatted away and squashed a lot more, the poor things. But wasps are widely misunderstood creatures. Similarly to bees, wasps have seen a reduction in numbers of 50% in the last 20 years. To find out why we should be protecting wasps as well as bees (yes, really) and how you can help, read on.
Why Do Wasps Sting?
I know, I know. Most of you will be thinking, why should we protect wasps? They sting people for no reason. So let’s clear on thing up before we get onto why we should be protecting them – that’s not actually true!
Most people get stung by wasps in late summer, when their colonies are beginning to prepare for winter hibernation. During this time, a lot of the wasps die off, and breeding of worker wasps ceases. The remaining worker wasps are left confused and disorientated by these changes – yes, wasps get confused too! In addition, there is also a lack of food as autumn approaches, leaving wasps in further despair.
Imagine that your whole world has changed, you’re starving, then you are approached by a giant flapping around trying to squash you. We would be stressed too! When a wasp feels this stress, it gets hostile and ends up stinging. Wasps are also territorial creatures, so if you approach a nest, you are also likely to get stung.
Species of Wasp
There are around 20,000 different species of wasp, and most are solitary wasps which don’t sting. The wasp species we are most familiar with in the UK is the Common Wasp. You will frequently see the Common Wasp buzzing about your garden, especially during summer time.
The Common Wasp live in large colonies and build their nests within cavities in houses and roofs. Their nests are constructed from a paper like material, made by the queen chewing on wood.
Wasps as Predators
Wasps are extremely important to the environment. They are vital predators to pests such as greenflies and caterpillars. Without wasps, the overall insect population would be considerably higher and many a field of crop would be destroyed by disease.
They are viewed as a beneficial insect by many farmers, and are increasingly being used as a natural pest control for crops such as celery and lettuce. The use of wasps as pest control also decreases the need for toxic chemicals that are very damaging to our environment.
Wasps as Disease-Fighters
Wasps are also protecting you. Many human diseases are spread by insects that are the prey of wasps.
In addition, a study has shown that one species of wasp could help tackle cancer. The venom of the Polybia paulista species of wasp was found to destroy various types of cancerous cells. It is definitely viable that the finding from further study of wasps could be used in cancer treatment in the future.
Wasps as Pollinators
Although not widely known, wasps are pollinator of many crops and flowers. It is a common misconception that bees are the only pollinators. Some research even shows that wasps are exclusive pollinators for some species of orchid.
Fig wasps are vital in the pollination of figs. Fig trees depend on wasps to make their seeds and distribute pollen. This partnership is something that has existed for millions of years. It involves the female fig wasp burying itself into the fig, and if the fig is male, laying her eggs. The wasp then dies inside the fig. The eggs left eventually hatch into larvae, burrow out and take the pollen with them. If the fig is female, the female wasp pollinates it then dies inside the fig. But fear not – the fig fruit produces an enzyme that breaks down the body of the wasp completely, so you are not consuming a dead wasp when chomping down on a fig!
How You Can Help
The first step to helping in the conservation in wasps is to not get rid of them! In general, wasps will not harm you if you do not threaten them. They may land on your skin, however this will be likely to inspect a smell – wasps have a sense a smell that trumps that of a dog. If you stay calm, the wasp will fly off with no bother.
If you find an active nest on the outside of your house, your best bet is to wait for the queen to vacate then fill the nest with soil to prevent it being taken over by another queen.
You can also help conserve the wasp population by decreasing your pesticide and insecticide use. Wasps shouldn’t be considered pests – they are in themselves a form of pest control, so by killing wasps of, you are going to end up with a lot more pests.
Overall, wasps play an important role in our ecosystem and should be considered alongside bees as from a conservation point of view.
Megan works in the Primrose marketing team. When she is not at her desk you will find her half way up a hill in the Chilterns
or enjoying the latest thriller series on Netflix. Megan also enjoys cooking vegetarian feasts with veggies from her auntie’s vegetable garden.