Article: Wasps: Vespula vulgaris

Wasps are renowned for their bad reputation, the slightest hint of a nearby buzz can send many people running for cover, but is their

reputation really that horrendous? Summer comes hand in hand with swarms of wasps chasing the numerous sugary ice cream and drink remainders. However, most wasp species are in fact solitary and non-stinging.

We should really start with a little bit about them.

Much like the humble Bumble Bee; the wasps we are familiar with have distinctive yellow and black stripes. They have much lower abdomens than bees with a narrow waist between the abdomen and thorax called a petiole.

They can be found across the globe (with the exception of Antarctica) and come in a wide array of colours and sizes. They create nests from wood fibres which have been chewed into a pulp.



The wasps we have in the UK are social wasps; they gather in large colonies. Each colony begins from scratch each spring by a Queen who survived the winter through hibernation. Her first brood will be female workers who start to expand the nest so that by late summer, the nest will be alive with around 5,000 individuals.  Social wasps secrete a pheromone when distressed, nearby members quickly pick up on this pheromone and rush to their workers aid in full defensive mode. Only female wasps have stingers, this is because that their primary use is an egg laying organ. Wasps can sting repeatedly - which is more than can be said for the bumble bee who sacrifice their life for one sting.

Winter brings peace. Every single wasp - including the founding Queen - will die off, leaving behind only tarnished memories and newly fertilised Queens.

So can the wasp really be defended?

Wasps have their place in the food chain - much like every other creature we see on Earth. Although it may not seem it to them, the food chain, with all it’s categories, is pivotal and each species is just as important as another in keeping the balance.

They play both the prey and the predator.



Practically every single insect species can fall either prey or host to their larvae. This makes them a brilliant tool to get rid of other pesky pests, especially in the agricultural industry where they can be used to protect crops.

Strangely enough, there are many species who will regularly include wasps in their day-to-day diet. UK invertebrates that feed on wasps include: several dragonfly species, hoverflies, beetles and moths. There are also many vertebrates in the UK that also feast on this insect, these include: badgers, birds, bats, rats, mice and - of course - US! I can’t say I have tried wasp larvae, but I have head that many people thoroughly enjoy it.

They play a key role in pollination which is a vital part of floral evolution. Very few people are eager to get close to a live wasp and would much rather be researching the fuzzy little bumble bee, so not much is known on the workings of wasps and pollination. But rest assured, wasps DO pollinate - maybe not as efficiently as bees due to the finer hairs on their abdomen but it is still an important. role.

Have I changed your mind on the pesky wasp? Maybe not, but perhaps we can learn to respect them just a little more as they continue to play their equally important role in our eco-systems.

Written by Natalie Phillips

 

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