Give wasps a break – they’re just as important as bees
The unpopular picnic pests are crucial for pollination and deserve the same respect, according to scientists
Wasps have long been reviled by humanity, and even made Charles Darwin question his faith because he could not see why a beneficent God would create such nefarious creatures.
But scientists at University College London (UCL) are trying to rehabilitate their image to prevent them from dying out.
Far from being the picnic-sullying, sting-happy nuisances that ruin many a summer gathering, conservationists argue that the insects are crucial for pollination and should be given the same respect as bees.
They want people to live with wasp nests rather than calling in exterminators, and plant “wasp-friendly” gardens with plenty of shelter and long grass. “It’s clear we have a very different emotional connection to wasps than to bees – we have lived in harmony with bees for a very long time, domesticating some species, but human-wasp interactions are often unpleasant as they ruin picnics and nest in our homes,” said Dr Seirian Sumner, one of the study’s authors from UCL.
“Despite this, we need to actively overhaul the negative image of wasps to protect the ecological benefits they bring to our planet. They face a similar decline to bees and that is something the world can’t afford.”
Wasps, like bees, are crucial to the ecology and economy, helping to fertilise flowers and crops, and keeping down pests and insects that carry diseases. But like bees, populations of wasps have collapsed by about 50% in just 20 years due to pesticides and disease.
A survey of more than 700 people by UCL found that while bees were much loved, wasps were universally despised. The top three words used to describe bees were “honey”, “flowers” and “buzz”, while for wasps people chose “sting”, “annoying” and “pain”.
The study also found that wasps were an unpopular choice of insect for research. Of 908 published scientific papers on the two species since 1980, 2.4% were about wasps, while 97.6% were about bees.
The dislike of wasps, the researchers said, was shaped by yellowjackets and hornets, which were most likely to come into contact with humans. The majority of wasps – in excess of 75,000 species – are solitary.
The UCL team said simple actions could increase wasp survival. “Avoid killing them!” said Dr Alessandro Cini, the report’s co-author: “If you have a nest, try to live with it rather than killing it. Kill the nest only if it is really a danger for you or other people. Do not use insecticides in your gardens, do not cut the grass too much. Old and hollow trees are good for wasps to build their nests in hidden and safe places.
“Global concern about the decline of pollinators has resulted in a phenomenal level of public interest in, and support of, bees. It would be fantastic if this could be mirrored for wasps.”
The research was published in the journal Ecological Entomology.
– © The Daily Telegraph