People seem to love bees but hate wasps, so why is there a difference in perception between the two? If I had a penny for every time I heard the question “what’s the point of wasps?” I’d have at least enough money to buy a Freddo (well, back in the good old days of cheap chocolate frogs anyway!). First of all, I’d like to put it out there that wasps don’t need to have a purpose, just as there doesn’t need to be a point to any living thing. But I believe what people really mean by this question is “how do wasps benefit us?”. So, when we think about it like this, we can look at both the good and bad things that wasps provide us with.
Both wasps and bees can sting, but bees are often more docile than wasps, rarely stinging unless roughly handled or near their nest. It is also commonly thought that bees can only sting once, while wasps can sting multiple times, but this is only true of honeybees, with bumblebees able to sting more than once as well. Further to this, there are many species of wasp that lack stingers, as well as stinging wasps that don’t affect humans. This means that our perception of wasps as dangerous to humans is borne out of our interaction with less than 1% of all wasp species.
The way in which bees feed mean that the pollinate flowers, and make honey. These are important ecosystem services, as they provide us with food, both directly, by producing honey, and indirectly, by pollinating our crops, allowing them to produce fruit and seeds. They are therefore seen as cuddly creatures that we need to look after. Wasps, on the other hand, are perceived as angry, weaponised barbecue ruiners, that don’t provide us with any benefits at all. According to Sumner et al. (2018), this comes from a lack of understanding about the ecology of wasps.
Most of us don’t realise that, just like bees, wasps provide us with important ecosystem services. You may have thought that only bees pollinate flowers, but there are actually many different insect pollinators. This includes wasps, which in some cases can be more effective pollinators than honey bees. As well as pollination, wasps are top predators, keeping down populations of pest insects and those that can be vectors of disease. It is widely understood that the loss of bees would be disastrous, with even Einstein rather apocalyptically suggesting that man would only have four years to live if bees became extinct. But what would happen if we lost our wasps? Well, instead of having the odd wasp buzzing around your can of coke, your picnic could instead be ruined by numerous disease carrying insects, that have proliferated due to the lack of an apex predator. Or maybe there will be no salad, due to pests uncontrollably gorging themselves in your lovingly tended to garden.
So instead of complaining about wasps, appreciate everything they do for us, and just try not to annoy them too much, as they certainly do have a point!
You can learn more about the wonderful world of wasps by going to buglife.org.uk