Are wasps unnecessary? Biologists explain the benefits of insects

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

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If you try to frantically scare animals away or even accidentally squeeze them, you sometimes get a painful bite. So many people find wasps annoying. But it’s not at all useless, says Melanie von Orlow of the Nature Conservation Union (NABU). However, the biologist admits: “So far, there has been no basic research on wasps.”

Wasps are of great benefit to humans

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

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Among other things, they came to the conclusion that wasps can be used as a natural pest control in agriculture. This way pesticides can be saved. More than 150 plant species depend entirely on wasps as pollinators. With its antibiotic properties, insect venom can be suitable for the production of medicines.

Even animals are suitable as a snack for humans. “Wasps definitely taste good dipped in some chili oil, and they are surprisingly nutritious. Promoting bugs — insects as food for humans — is definitely the answer to sustainable food security,” Sumner wrote in a comment on the UCL website, titled Why I Love Wasps and Why They Should You have to too.”

The function of wasps in nature

Biologist Nabo von Orlo has long been observing the tasks that wasps perform in nature. She is the head of the Berlin Service for Hymenoptera, which is dedicated to protecting wild bees, bumblebees and wasps. Like many other insects that sometimes crawl on plants, wasps pollinate flowers. In addition, they eat dead animals. “So they’re involved in the breaking down and decomposition of carrion,” conservationists say.

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Wasps also eat a variety of insects. Classic “cake wasps” – that’s how von Orlow calls the two species considered annoying – are not particularly specialized. “In fact, they hunt anything smaller than themselves, such as honeybees or beetles. Anything a wasp can catch and overpower, will fly into it.” Thus, wasps help reduce plant diseases. Because they eliminate on pest stock.

Why do wasps eat meat?

“A small colony of wasps consumes up to 3,000 flies, mosquitoes, larvae, moths, spiders and other small animals per day,” explains the Consortium for the Conservation of Nature (Bond). Among the more than 600 species of hornets in Germany, there are also highly specialized hunters. This includes wasp aphids. As the name implies, it is an anti-aphid. Adult aphids feed on dew or nectar. However, they lay their eggs in lice. As the wasp larva grows, it kills aphids.

And why do some species of wasps feed on apricot cake or sausage as of August when they can easily catch insects and sip the nectar? “When they don’t have much left to get out in nature, wasps also use people’s food,” explains Nabo biologist von Orlo. The insects needed sugar to feed themselves and protein for their offspring. Therefore, animals are interested not only in sweets, but also in steaks.

Wasps as food for other animals

The common hornet and the German hornet, for example, serve as prey for hornets. Large hummingbirds also belong to the wasp family. “One very common but not particularly common antagonist is the honey hawk,” explains biologist von Orlow. This bird of prey digs wasps’ nests and feeds its catch to its brood. Since typical “cake wasps” like to breed on land, some large vertebrates are among the predators. Mice, rats or raccoons, for example, love to use a hornet’s nest. “It’s amazing how these animals seem to be able to get rid of their bites,” says the Naboo expert.

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However, the biologist found that the question of the benefits of wasps is “a little bit human-centric”, that is, it is asked from a human perspective. She does not believe in the hypothesis that there must be anything unhelpful in nature. “Indeed, everything has its meaning and purpose,” says von Orlow. Just like all other creatures, wasps also work in nature. And also: In the opinion of a biologist, for a species to be considered worthy of protection, it does not matter whether people see a benefit in their existence.

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