Late summer. Bees are buzzing in the garden and wasps are… well, what are they doing exactly?
People love bees. Our campaign to stop bee decline continues to get a huge amount of support. Bees are cute. They make honey. Well, one species does. The Honey bee is the pin-up of the bee world. There are many other species doing great jobs too - pollinating some of our best-loved crops including apples, strawberries and tomatoes. Bees have earned their stripes.
But wasps get it in the neck for bothering us when we’re trying to enjoy ourselves. And they look menacing. And they sting (never mind that bees do too). And… what do they really do? What are they for?
We have 9 species of social wasps in the UK – the familiar black and yellow or orange-banded ones. Here are 5 good reasons to show our wonderful wasps some respect.
1. Wasps are pollinators too
Adult wasps have a sweet tooth which includes nectar from flowers. By flying from one flower to another they transfer pollen and pollinate plants, like bees do.
The wasps you’ll see in your garden or house also help pollinate a range of plants including ivy, fennel, angelica and even some orchids.
2. Wasps eat through pests and dead meat
Wasps gather protein to feed to their larvae, hunting other insects and scavenging carrion. Without them our gardens and our farms would be overrun with pest insects like aphids and caterpillars that damage the plants and dead animals would linger longer on the ground.
Wasps are part of a whole ecological guild of scavenging animals that includes ants, various birds, etc, which plays a valuable role by removing vast amounts of waste organic material from our towns and cities every year.
Dr Jeff Ollerton, University of Northampton
3. Wasps are not interested in stinging us
Honestly. Just ignore them and they’ll buzz off. They will. Flapping at them will provoke them for sure. They come after the sweet stuff – it’s only natural.
4. Wasps are great architects
They make amazing papier-mâché nest structures like this one. They can be seen and heard munching on soft wood (like old garden fences) to turn into pulp for use in the construction of their nests.
5. Wasps help make wine
Some wasps store wild yeasts in their gut over winter. By feeding on grapes the following year, wasps kick start the fermentation process by passing on some of this yeast. A wine-lover’s best friend!
So keep calm and let the wasp carry on. The next time it shows an interest in your sandwich, don’t swat it. Give it some credit.
This blog was updated on 8 May 2017
Main photo: Mason wasp (Ancistrocerus parietum) photographed in Attingham Park, Shropshire