Why you should love (or at least respect) wasps
It’s that time of year when we start to moan about the wasps, as well as the weather. In fact wasps are one of the most universally disliked animals on the planet, closely followed by spiders and cockroaches. I’d like to ask you to think beyond wasps at your summer picnics and beer gardens, and consider what a world without wasps would look like. Wasps are important for our economy as well as for natural ecosystems. Wasps are in fact a valuable source of natural capital – a natural asset of the world, providing us with free ecosystem services that contribute to our economy, society and ecology: wasps should be revered rather than despised. Here are some reasons why you should love wasps!
There’s more to wasps than the yellowjacket vespid.
Over 200,000 species of wasps have been described, making them one of the most speciose groups of animals on earth. It is likely that another 100,000 lie waiting to be discovered. To put this into perspective, there are only around 5,400 species of mammals, and 11,800 described species of ant.
Wasps control arthropod populations
Wasps kill the pests that we try to control with toxic chemicals. They are top of the food chain. Without wasps, food webs would break down: they offer ecological resilience. This regulation of arthropod populations is arguably the most important role of wasps, both ecologically and economically. Social wasps – yes the horrible yellow-jacket you swatted this morning – are likely to be especially important because each nest houses 1000s of predatory workers. A single nest collects around 8kg of prey per hectare. BBC presenter Steve Backshall may not be too far off in claiming that a world without wasps would “be beset by plagues of biblical proportions”.
Wasps are pollinators
Wasps also serve crucial roles in ecosystems as specialist pollinators. They are the only pollinators of thousands of species of fig, and several hundred species of endemic orchid. Wasps also function as generalist pollinators, inadvertently transferring pollen between flowers they visit for nectar to feed themselves.
Wasps as cancer treatment
An exciting and very recent area of research is in the potential use of wasp venom for cancer therapy. An active peptide found in the venom of tropical social wasps, selectively destroys cancerous cells by causing leaky cell membranes. Wasp venom could revolutionise chemotherapy treatments.
Have we convinced you?
Wasps may be a nuisance at times but they are almost certainly a necessary nuisance. Without them we could expect an
unmanageable rise in pestiferous insects along with the extinction of keystone fig trees and multiple orchid species. A world without wasps would be an ecological and economic disaster; consider this next time you roll up your newspaper to squash a wasp!
Do you work in the pest-control business?
If you are a pest-controller who regularly removes wasp nests from people’s gardens/houses, then we’d love to hear from you! Check our our new project here.