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Insect week: Wasps

Updated: Jun 30

This week the Royal Entomological Society celebrates the small creatures that keep the world going. Supported by partner organisations throughout the UK and Europe, it is possible to get involved in insect science wherever you are. Wherever you live, it’s an opportunity to take part in insect science, get to know insects, learn from experts, and have fun.

This week, I would like to celebrate the insects that play an often-overlooked role in keeping our crops healthy by focusing on key insects in agriculture.

Today, we celebrate wasps!

Now, you may have to bear with me on this. Few insects are as common to see in the UK, or as despised. These are the bugs that you have been taught to avoid since you were a child, lest you be stung by one of these grumpy, buzzing creatures. Well unfortunately, as with most living things, they do have their own role to play, specifically, they are very good at hunting other insect pests and play a not negligible role in pollinating flowering plants.

There are 7,000 species of wasp in the UK, split into two categories; solitary and social. Social wasps are probably the ones you will be most familiar with, swarming around at your summer barbeques and generally making an annoyance of themselves. These wasps are most likely either the common wasp, Vespula vulgaris, or the German wasp, Vespula germanica. Both species are very similar in size and  colour, with yellow and black markings. These types of Social wasp species are responsible for killing and estimated 14 million kilograms of insect prey, including aphids and Caterpillars. As for how they pollinate… well, actually they do that by accident as they travel between plants and flowers. In fairness, bees are also spreading pollen by accident, they’re just very good at it. Wasps just aren’t quite as good, or as well known for their services.

More fun facts about wasps:

  • Wasps have been traced back using fossil records to the Jurassic period.

  • Wasps are found all over the world except in polar regions.

  • The largest social wasp is the Asian giant hornet at up to 5 centimetres in length.

  • The largest solitary wasp is the giant scoliid wasp with a wingspan of 11.6 cm.

  • As useful as wasps are, they can become a problem when they are introduced to new areas. For example, in New Zealand, where there are no native social wasps.

  • Some solitary wasp species are quite sinister. Most spider wasps can paralyse spiders using a venomous sting, so their larvae can then eat the victim alive. There are nearly 5,000 species of spider wasp across the world, including 44 species in Britain.

  • Unlike honeybees, wasps won’t be harmed by stinging us- allowing them to do it as many times as they please. Whilst bees have barbed stingers that hook into the skin, wasp’s stingers are smooth and can be pulled out easier. Then if the wasps run out of venom they can simply make more.

Come back tomorrow to learn about another important critter!

If you are interested in learning about how you can support the survival of these important insect species please check out the resources available at:

If you would like to learn more:

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