Are wasps unnecessary? Biologists explain the benefits of insects

More than 600 species of wasps buzz through Germany. But only two of them – the common wasp and the German wasp – are responsible for the bad reputation of flying insects. Because only they are interested in the people’s diet in this country, snacking on cake, falling into lemonade and sometimes even stealing pieces of meat.

Anyone who tries to scare away the animals too frantically or even accidentally squeezes them sometimes gets a painful sting. Many people therefore find wasps annoying. But they are not at all useless, says Melanie von Orlow from the Nature Conservation Union (Nabu). However, the biologist concedes: “So far, there has been hardly any basic research on wasps.”

Wasps are of great benefit to humans

A team led by British professor Seirian Sumner from University College London (UCL) wants to change that. In 2021, the researchers published a study on the benefits of wasps for the ecosystem (“Ecosystem services provided by aculeate wasps“). To do this, they analyzed more than 500 scientific papers.

Among other things, they came to the conclusion that wasps could be used as natural pest controllers in agriculture. In this way, pesticides could be saved. More than 150 plant species are completely dependent on wasps as pollinators. With its antibiotic properties, the venom of the insects could be suitable for the production of medicines.

The animals are even suitable as a snack for humans. “Wasps definitely taste good dipped in some chili oil, and they’re surprisingly nutritious. Promoting entomophagy – insects as food for humans – is certainly the solution to sustainable food security,” writes Sumner in a comment on UCL’s website, which said, “Why I love wasps and why you should too” is overwritten.

See also  Heavy fighting in the center of Bakhmut

The job of wasps in nature

Nabu biologist von Orlow has long been observing the tasks that wasps perform in nature. She is head of the Berlin Hymenoptera Service, which is dedicated to protecting wild bees, bumblebees and hornets. Like many other insects that occasionally crawl around on plants, wasps pollinate flowers. In addition, they eat dead animals. “So they are involved in breaking down and decomposing carrion,” says the conservationist.

Wasps also eat a variety of insects. The classic “cake wasps” – as von Orlow calls the two species that are considered annoying – are not particularly specialized. “Actually, they hunt anything smaller than themselves, like honey bees or beetles. Anything a wasp can capture and overcome, it will fly to,” explains the expert. Thus, wasps help to curb plant diseases. Because they decimate the stocks of pests.

Why do wasps eat meat?

“A small wasp colony will consume up to 3,000 flies, mosquitoes, caterpillars, moths, spiders and other small animals per day”, explains the Federation for the Environment and Nature Conservation (Federation). Among the more than 600 wasp species in Germany, there are also those that are highly specialized hunters. This includes the aphid wasp. As the name suggests, it is an antagonist to aphids. The adult aphid wasps feed on honeydew or nectar. However, they lay their eggs in the lice. As the wasp larva grows, it kills the aphid.

And why do some wasp species nibble on apricot cake or sausages from August when they could just as easily hunt insects and sip nectar? “When there isn’t much left for them to get out in nature, wasps also use the food of humans,” explains Nabu biologist von Orlow. The insects needed sugar to feed themselves and protein for their offspring. Therefore, the animals are not only interested in dessert, but also in steak.

See also  Antarctic meeting again without agreement

Wasps as food for other animals

The common wasp and the German wasp, for example, serve as prey for the hornets. The big buzzers also belong to the wasp family. “A very popular but not particularly common antagonist is the honey buzzard,” explains biologist von Orlow. This bird of prey digs up wasp nests and feeds its catch to its own brood. Since the typical “cake wasps” like to breed on the ground, some larger vertebrates are among their predators. Mice, rats or raccoons, for example, like to use the wasp nest. “It’s amazing how well these animals can apparently put away the bites,” says the Nabu expert.

However, the biologist finds the question of the benefits of wasps “a bit anthropocentric”, i.e. asked from a human perspective. She doesn’t believe in the thesis that there should be anything in nature that isn’t useful. “Actually, everything has its meaning and purpose,” says von Orlow. Just like all other creatures, wasps also have their job in nature. And also: In the biologist’s opinion, for species to be considered worthy of protection, it is irrelevant whether people see a benefit in their existence.

Download our new RND app for Android and iOS here free of charge

See more here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *