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Environment

Why You Seriously Need to Stop Hating on Wasps

Why Global Citizens Should Care
All wildlife deserves respect; but is there an insect as universally despised, and as important, as the wasp? You might not realise it, but they’re just as vital to the survival of our planet as bees — but get way more bad press. Take action on the consequences of climate change here.

I was 10 years old when a wasp stung me on ... well, on a place my editor won’t let me mention.

Typical, though, right? You’re living your life, minding your business. Then: malevolence and treachery! The Machiavellian pinprick of uncompromising evil!

But we must not judge a wasp by its brother — scientists have just highlighted that they’re one of the most important organisms on the planet.

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It’s almost dogma: bees rock, wasps suck.

But both are crucial for pollination — the process that allows plant life to reproduce — and wasps actually go one step further: annihilating other insects that carry diseases that could threaten human beings.

Wasps are equally threatened by climate change and loss of habitats as bees. 

But if nobody likes them, is their future — and ours — in danger?

Ecological Entomology asked 750 people from 46 countries to score insects on a scale from minus-five (strongly dislike) to plus-five (strongly like).

Bees rated highly: often scoring a plus-three or higher. But wasps were rated exactly the opposite, mostly scoring a minus-three or lower. While bees were associated with words like "honey", "flowers", and "pollination", wasps were paired more pessimistically with terms like "sting", "annoying", and "dangerous".

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The study, published on Wednesday, also examined 908 research papers and 2,543 conference presentations on both insects — and found that just 2.4% of papers were dedicated to wasps in contrast to 97.6% on bees; while 81.3% of presentations were all about bees.

“People don't realise how incredibly valuable they are," said Dr Seirian Sumner from University College London (UCL) to BBC News. "Although you might think they are after your beer or jam sandwich — they are, in fact, much more interested in finding insect prey to take back to their nest to feed their larvae.

Wasps sting. They sting, and they pester, and they get in people’s trousers. But generalisations like that are actually quite distant to the facts.

There are just 67 species of “social” wasps — the kind that most often come into contact with humans and their body parts. But the vast majority — a gargantuan 75,000, over 99% of stinging wasps — are “solitary,” meaning they couldn’t care less about your irrational phobia.

“It’s clear we have a very different emotional connection to wasps than to bees,” Sumner said. “Despite this, we need to actively overhaul the negative image of wasps to protect the ecological benefits they bring to our planet. They are facing a similar decline to bees and that is something the world can’t afford.”

Read More: Making Insects Tastier Could Alleviate Global Hunger

“Global concern about the decline of pollinators has resulted in a phenomenal level of public interest in, and support of, bees,” added Dr Alessandro Cini, a co-author of the study from UCL and the University of Florence. “It would be fantastic if this could be mirrored for wasps but it would need a complete cultural shift in attitudes towards wasps.”

“The first step on the way to this would be for scientists to appreciate wasps more and provide the required research on their economic and societal value, which will then help the public understand the importance of wasps,” he continued.

Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, who launched the People’s Manifesto for Wildlife on Wednesday to address the decline in British wildlife, has warned that we face an “ecological apocalypse” — and has urged people to march through London with him on September 22 to fight back.

However, Packham has also taken quite a personal stand to demonstrate that wasps deserve just as much love as the rest of us: by refusing to remove a wasp nest just outside his kitchen door.

“For everyone walking in and out, the wasps are kind of attacking us,” Packham said in July. “But I plan to put a cardboard baffle up to change their flight path and then they won’t be right in front of the door.”

So forget your bias, get over the past — scientists want you to love wasps like you’d love yourself. There’s no sting quite like an apocalypse, am I right?