For those who have asked what the point of wasps is, there is now a comprehensive answer. They are voracious predators of pest insects, produce powerful antibiotics in their venom, pollinate plants and even make a nutritious snack.
The benefits to humans of the much-hated insects are revealed in the first major scientific review of the ecosystem services they provide. It focused on the 33,000 known species of hunting wasps, which carry stings and live in every corner of the world.
Yellowjackets and hornets, the picnic pests that have given wasps a bad name, make up a small proportion of all wasp species. But even they provide help that is little known, such as hoovering up caterpillars on vegetable patches. Yellowjacket venom is also being investigated as a promising cancer treatment.
Many insect populations are plunging, threatening human wellbeing, but wasps seem to be more resilient. Even among entomologists, however, many appear to avoid them, and the scientists said much more research was needed to understand them.
The study author is Professor Seirian Sumner at University College in London and she spoke with Mike Hosking this morning.