What Do Wasps Do?
When you think about wasps, you probably imagine a huge hive buzzing, ready to swarm in and attack. Well, being in a direct contact with a hive without any protection might leave bad memories. It is in our nature to think about the bad things first. Negative emotions leave scars in our minds. They are the first thing that pops out when we think about whatever caused them.
In the case of wasps, those scars might as well be pretty real. The sting of this insect is very painful and will make us remember it. But is that the sole purpose of the wasp species? To make people that approach them cry and run away? Every living thing on earth has some purpose and serves as a mechanism in the ecosystem of our planet. You might be surprised, but wasps are no exception.
The thing is that we always compare them to bees. We know that bees are making honey and we love honey. So the natural question in our minds is "What do wasps do?!". What is the wasp’s contribution to our ecosystem, and why do wasps even exist?
Do us the honours, and let us explain.
What Purpose Do Wasps Serve?
Every living creature on the Earth has "its job". Every creature interacts with nature. It leaves an impact and its own footprint if you will. Remind yourself of the time when people thought wolves were not needed in "Yellowstone Park". Now they are actually a main "attraction" there.
People thought that wolves have a negative impact on the park. They thought that wolf packs were limiting the deer population when they were actually a natural regulator of it. Wolves fell a victim of poaching. When you remove the wolves, you are going to have a deer problem.
Wasps serve a similar purpose to wolves. They are hunters. Wasps feed on other insects and often attack insects that are considered a pest. This makes them a natural regulator of their population. Without the "Big Bad Wasps" tons of other insects will overrun our gardens and crop fields. This might negatively impact our food resources. Considering the rate with which insects are reproducing, we will feel the absence of wasps pretty fast.
So the main purpose of wasps would be to act as a natural regulator of the population of other pests. And we should thank them for that!
Image by: S. Rae
How Are Wasps Beneficial
Keeping our vegetables and other crops safe from devouring pests is not enough? We need to see some actual benefits for us to count something beneficial.
So what are the benefits of wasps? Benefits that humans can touch, taste and enjoy. What are the tasks that a wasp can do for us for free? How will we benefit from its work?
We were talking about how people always compare wasps with bees. Bees pollinate plants, we all know that. People are teaching kids about the value of bees and how they are helping flowers. And that if there were no bees, the flowers would be gone as well. Rooting this idea in our minds from a young age makes it hard to shift our beliefs. The truth is that bees are not the only insects pollinating plants. As a matter of fact, even the annoying fly is a pollinator. Yes! The insect that you hate the most, right after the mosquito.
To answer the question, yes, some species of wasps pollinate flowers. Common mistake points the absence of hair on the body of a wasp as the reason why they don't pollinate. This is completely false. The wind is not hairy (thank God) but it actually pollinates plants.
On top of that, wasps do have hairs on their body. The hairs serve as a trap for pollen to stick to. That way they can transport large quantities of pollen and increase the success rate. The hairs on the body of a bee are easily seen because they are long and thick. Anyways, the wasp is also covered in hair. The most common species habituating Europe have hair on their entire bodies. The misinformation comes from the fact that those hairs are thin and hard to see with a naked eye. You can clearly examine the hairs of a wasp in the picture. Now, that you are looking at this photo, do you think wasps pollinate?
Image by: Ecology of Commanster
Some species of wasps are the sole reason specific fruits even exist. A solid example for this is the "Fig Wasp". The name of this species says it all. The fig wasp won't be able to develop without the shelter and the nutrition from the fig. The fig itself won't be able to develop because it needs to be pollinated from the inside. No other insect can do that without, well, destroying the fruit. The fig wasps pollinate 1000 different species of figs. If you love figs, keep in mind that you own a big (Thank You) to the fig wasp for that sweetness.
Other pollinating wasps in The UK are:
- Red Wasp (Vespula rufa)
- Mason Wasp (Ancistrocerus parietum)
- Ruby - tailed Wasp (Chrysis ruddii)
- German Wasp (Vespula Germanica)
Solitary wasps are better pollinators than the eusocial families. Wasps are hunters, and as such, they need a vast amount of energy to track down pray. Give a kid a chocolate bar and observe the result. Something similar is happening to wasps when they indulge in some sweet nectar. The nectar, and energy from it is the reason why solitary wasps make perfect pollinators.
Solitary Wasp Pollinating Families:
- Sphex - Digger Wasps
If it turns out that wasps make honey, the bees might never be the superior species in our eyes again.
At ease, bee lovers. Wasps will probably never out-best the bees when it comes to honey production. Yet, a lot of people simply throw the idea of a wasp making honey out of the window. They reject the possibility and thus claim that wasps DO NOT make honey.
This is not quite true. We may not be able to extract that "honey" on a large scale like we are able to do with bees. The quantities of wasp honey may be way smaller in general. But to be completely honest, wasps do make some form of nutrition and sugar-rich substance that they feed on. The problem is that once again, they are being extra selfish and make just enough for themselves. The real reason behind it is that wasps just don't save anything for the winter.
The substance that wasps create is not being made by all members of the wasp family. And it is not with the same consistency as the honey. So to answer the questions "Do wasps make honey?" you need to take things into your own hands and decide. If you think the small amount of sugary liquid that some wasps produce counts as honey, then "Yes" if you don’t think that way, "No".
The idea behind biological control over different pests has many followers. It would be great if you are able to fight off a pest with other insect/organism and it won't result in any other problems. This is where wasps claim their undisputed place in horticulture.
Such form of natural pest control proves extremely valuable for farmers. It limits the negative effect that any type of chemical may have on the crops. There's huge pressure on producers to limit the use of strong chemicals. It is understandable, you won't like to have something on the table, knowing that it was sprayed with chemicals that resolved in the death of another living thing... Basic logic.
Wasps are highly effective as a biological pest control method in lettuce and celery greenhouses. The environment in those greenhouses is ideal for the shore flies. Those flies infest the agricultural output. The population of shore flies is being controlled by Parasitoid Wasps.
Problems In Front of Biological Pest Control With Wasps
Those wasps can take care of a variety of different pests. There are a couple of challenges ahead:
- Professionals still don’t know certain specifics and which wasps would be best for fighting which pest.
- It is expensive and time-consuming for a farmer to provide only biological pest control to his crops.
- It is hard to diagnose the exact amount of wasp you need, and you don’t want overpopulation of wasps.
On the other hand, a certificate for "biological pest control" would look great on your packages and will definitely increase sell value and amount.
Most Useful Wasp Groups in Natural Pest Control
Although there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of things to be discovered in order for humans to master the art of biological pest control, we can safely say that we have established a couple of useful wasp families. The below-listed species have proven their usefulness in natural pest control against their prey.
- Ichneumonid Wasps - prey mostly on caterpillars;
- Braconid Wasps - a natural enemy of the cabbage caterpillar;
- Chalcid Wasps - effective against eggs/larvae of greenfly, whitefly, and strawberry tortrix moth.
Interesting Wasp Facts
We may see wasps almost every day, especially now during the warm months. But can we claim we know everything about them? We know that they don’t feed us honey, and we know that they can sting us. Until now, that was enough for us, but let us tell you a couple of interesting facts about those stingers that you may not know.
Yes! Wasps actually do indulge in a sleep. The sleep cycle of wasps is similar to our own, meaning that they are active through the day and sleep at night. Well to be exact, they are motionless, and a small amount may continue maintenance on the nest if needed.
A common trick is to attack the wasp nest during the night. This will surprise the wasps and they will be disorientated at first. It will give you a better chance of neutralising the nest with fewer stings suffered.
Now, this is very important. Do not engage in DIY wasp nest removal! Please! Even during the night, it might be disorienting to wasps, but it is surely making you more vulnerable as well. If you threaten the nest, it means war, and wasps are a well-organised force. Just because you know a certain weak spot in their defence, does not mean that all of a sudden you are an expert. Spare yourself the pain and medication, call for a professional nest removal.
In Central and South America there is a species of wasps that are active during the night, but only in full moon.
The lifespan of adult wasps is roughly 12 months. In order for a wasp to turn into an adult wasp, it goes through four stages, just like most insects.
Egg -> Larvae -> Pupae -> Adult
The male (worker) wasps will die off at the beginning of the winter. This is a result of significant lack of food sources and freezing temperatures. Unlike bees, wasps don’t store food for the winter.
The female Queens will enter a state of hibernation and can survive the winter, in order to revive the nest next season. The tricky part is for the queen wasp to awaken at the correct time. Sometimes winters are warmer than usual, quite often nowadays, and wasps wake up too early. This is devastating to them, because the food is just not present, and the wasp stands no chance.
Because of predators and climate changes, wasps rarely live more than a year.
We have just mentioned the winter slumber that wasp queens indulge in.
Female wasps have a nutrient-rich meal right before hibernation. This will ensure enough energy to live through the winter. The positioning is key. The female has to find a place where she would be safe from predators. She can't just hibernate out in the open because of birds, ants and other predators. She can't stay in the nest either, because occasionally spiders lurk in search of food.
Whenever a spider sees an uninhabited wasp nest that no longer emits the pheromones of the wasps, it will walk right in with a hope for some leftovers, and a juicy queen wasp is a dream come true.
Queen wasps often hide in the deepest part of the nest, or just fly outside and find a warm crack where they can hide. Those are often wall cracks somewhere where there is human activity, because of the heat emitted. A wall crack can save the queen, and she can always find a suitable place for her nest, maybe under the porch...
The queen will hibernate in a specific position as well. She tucks her wings, under her body, in order to protect the fragile tissue. The wings are no doubt a key element in her survival so she can't afford to lose them. The antennae, as well, are a very important sense organ to the wasp. While the wasp queen is having her winter sleep, she will tuck her antennae under the thorax to keep them safe.
The diet of wasps is rich. It has some specifications in correlation with the exact species, specifically if the wasp is solitary or eusocial. They both have the same "meal", but with some different preferences.
NOTE: Adult wasps can't process proteins.
Here is a list of everything wasps eat:
- Insects - mainly spiders and caterpillars;
- Nectar - wasps also enjoy nectar from plants;
- Honey - wasps steal honey from bee-hives;
- Fallen fruit - a fast and easy source of natural sugar;
- Decaying flesh - some species of yellow-jackets;
- Larvae saliva - look at "wasp energy drink" section next to this one;
- Human food - anything with sugar, sometimes even meat;
It is a common misconception that wasps actually eat insects themselves. No, they are laying eggs in them and they are feeding them to wasp larvae. Most adult wasps prefer to drink nectar or something sweet that can keep them going. Sugar is the energy drink, the coffee for this glorious insect hunter, and it needs a lot of it.
Now we know what wasps eat, but who eats wasps?
Who Eats Wasps
Wasps may be predators but there are bigger species that would enjoy feasting on some easy to spot bright yellow targets. Here are the mortal enemies of the wasps:
- Sall birds - like Starlings;
- Falcons - Red-throated Caracara in North and South America;
- Ants - occasionally, ant colonies and eusocial wasp colonies collide for territory;
- Spiders - on the occasion when a wasp is caught in the net, or a hibernating queen is found;
- Praying Mantis - natural enemy;
- Centipedes - on rare occasions;
- Dragonflies - natural enemy;
- Raccoons and weasels - sometimes they are brave enough to attack wasp nests in order to eat the larvae;
- Humans - mostly larvae, fried or in an ice-cream.
Sometimes you can find misleading information that bats also eat wasps. Not that if a bat is fed a wasp it won't eat it, but in nature it won't be able to find any. Wasps don't fly at night, and bats are nocturnal creatures. So because of those facts, you will probably never see a bat eating a wasp in wildlife. Except if it is an Apoica Wasp.
You thought we are joking? No! There is such a thing in reality.
It is a product, that synthesises the very thing that gives wasps energy and gives it to you.
Inspired by the Japanese hornet which is the biggest hornet and can fly at an enormous speed for its huge proportions.
The Japanese hornet is known for flying roughly 60 miles every day at a top speed of 25 mph. This is astonishing considering that it is also the heaviest hornet on Earth.
The hornet is drinking a transparent liquid provided by the larvae аfter it is fed. That is actually the source of energy for the adult hornet and the secret ingredient of the energy drink.