For many, wasps are seen as a threat and even a nuisance, but they
perform vital roles in the eco-system. As a natural form of pest
control, they are a brilliant gardener's friend, taking crop-eating insects to
feed to their young. Increasingly, however, with the spotlight on pollinators generally, people are beginning to ask the question, Are wasps pollinators?
Personally, I decided to investigate the subject of wasp pollination some years ago.
I had read false information on a pest control website that wasps do not pollinate. The reason given was that wasps do not have hairy bodies - the hair being present on bees, enabling pollen grains to stick to the hair, and be transferred from one flower to another. (Read more about pollination). In short, the whole article appeared to query the wasps' purpose - "What's the point of wasps?" seemed to be the whole approach.
However, the notion that wasps do not have hairy bodies is actually false. Even the Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) and German Wasp (Vespula germanica), often the target of pest control companies, do indeed have hairy bodies.
The first time I really examined the hair on a wasp was when I found a dead wasp on a window sill of a room that is only rarely used. The body of the wasp had a fine covering of dust, which stuck to the hairs, making the hairs themselves more visible.
Indeed, the hair on the black and yellow striped abdomen is so fine, it is almost invisible to the naked eye - and how many people are happy to get too close to a wasp when it is alive? Not many people! Afterall, who likes wasps?
transparent hair was fine, but dense.
Similarily, the thorax of the wasp (upper body) was covered in thick black hairs.
Later, I captured images of wasps pollinating my autumn raspberries! See below - look very closely, and you can make out the hair on the wasps' body.
More images of (- I'm convinced!) - wasps pollinating raspberry flowers as they drink the nectar:
As well as the research I'm going to share with you, in
terms of personal observation, I am convinced that wasp pollination was
almost entirely responsible for the abundant crop of cotoneaster berries
on my cotoneaster tree in 2011.
I am an observer of all
things 'bee', but it seems climate change has altered the flowering times of the
cotoneaster tree in my garden. In the past, it was pollinated by
bumblebees. In 2011, I noted very few bumblebees on the tree, but
many, many wasps working away. I also believe wasps help to pollinate our raspberries (my sister feels the same).
One of the frustrating things is that research into wasp pollination is quite limit. I expect this to change in the future, though I don't know how long it will be.
However, even from the small amount of research information we have, we can prove
that wasps pollinate flowers, and there are even some species of orchid that are believed to
be pollinated exclusively by certain wasps, whilst wasp pollination is
vital for figs!
It shouldn't be a surprise that wasps pollinate - and after all, let us not forget that bees are closely related (actually believed to be decended) from wasps - or Vespidae.
to prove that there is further information out there, including
scientific papers, I thought I'd include a few references here.
We have a horrendous tendency to kill large numbers of living creatures we don't understand. I believe we should try to educate ourselves and our children.
If you would like to explore this theme further, then I recommend a number of books which I mention below the pollination research.
Clicking on these links, including the titles of these sections, opens a new window.
Here is a quote from the abstract:
In other words, this study
looked at the amount of pollen carried around by wasps. Not only that,
they looked at flowers visited by insects, and found that a large
proportion of them, were actually visited by wasps, over half of which
were shown to transport pollen! The transfer of pollen from one flower to another is of course key for pollination to occur.
Wasp Pollination By The Spider Hunting Wasp
There are a number of different species of spider hunting wasp, and they are important polinators. This paper looks at wasp pollination of plants from the hyacinth family. It showed that floral scent played a role in attracting these pollinating wasps.
Wasps Pollinate Orchids
This article is about orchid pollination by the common wasp (you know, the species commonly targetted as a pest!). Many countries benefit from wasp pollination of flowers, and not merely exotic wasps from warmer climates. German wasps also help to pollinate some species of British orchids. For an example, see this article. It states:
A further study (from Germany) about wasp pollination of orchids can be found here.
Figs And Wasp Pollination
Figs and fig wasps have evolved to help each other out: Fig wasps lay their eggs inside the fruit where the wasp larvae can safely develop, and in return, the wasps pollinate the figs!
This is just a handful of references on the subject of whether or not wasps pollinate flowers, and yet, the benefits of wasps and wasp pollination are rarely understood.
Well, we haven't gotten around to studying the interactions of every (discovered) species of plant life, with every (discovered) species of wasp, so the answer is, we don't know! So please spare a thought for wasps. They may be bigger friends than we know!
However, increasingly, farmers, horticulturalists and growers are starting to harness the amazing powers of wasps to help control pests, which may otherwise destroy crops. This means harmful insecticides can be cut out. For example, there one of the types of wasps used, is a kind of 'body snatcher wasp'!
I'm convinced we need to raise awareness of the importance of wasps, and also educate ourselves and the young.
I have selected these books - it's a place to start!
A Wasp Builds a Nest: See Inside a Paper Wasp's Nest and Watch It Grow
With beautiful illustrations, fear can turn to fascination!
Bees, Wasps, and Ants: The Indispensable Role of Hymenoptera in Gardens
It really amazes me that more noise is not made about the value of wasps in gardens!! Yes, I know, there are times when having wasps around is not convenient, but there are things we can do about that - see this page).
Fantastic Facts About Wasps: Illustrated Fun Learning For Kids (Volume 1)
A book for educating children with quick facts.
The Sting of the Wild
This is actually a book not just about wasps, but about why some creatures sting generally. It even looks at the differing severity of stings!
Okay, so wasps are pollinators, but what if you have a valid concern about wasps, or wish to avoid being stung? In that case, consider making or purchasing a Waspinator (available from Amazon.com OR Amazon.co.uk.
If you are a gardener, farmer, or land owner, you have good reason to try to adopt a pragmatic approach where you can.
If you are worried about your plums, discourage wasps from nesting in your garden, and ensure you pick as many plums as you need when they are ripe, rather than when they are about to become over-ripe.
plums, and put what you can't use into jams, or into the freezer in the
form of pies.
Ask yourself whether you would actually pick all of them anyway? Can you spare a few?
If the wasps are in your raspberries, they more than likely helped pollinate them in the first place. Do you REALLY need to pick every single raspberry? Remember to use a Waspinator next year! You can also try a citronella deterrant around your garden.
in reality, we know little about wasps in comparison to say, honey
bees, it's obvious there is more to be discovered about crop and flower
pollination by wasps. We already know that wasps can perform helpful
natural pest control in gardens, because they are known to feed their
young on some crop predators.
Unfortunately, when we don't like something (and many
people don't like wasps), perhaps humans are sometimes reluctant to
admit when it has value. Instead, we go around killing things, and on
occasion, we have killed so much, that we have lost species to
Surely, it's time for humans to evolve beyond this approach, and to become more pragmatic?
You and I can do our bit! If anyone asks us "do wasps pollinate flowers and crops", we can tell them the answer, and perhaps point out other benefits waps. If people are afraid of wasps, we can also encourage people to repel rather than kill them - just a thought!
Go from Do Wasps Pollinate Flowers? to one of these links
Wasp Life Cycle
Go from Do Wasps Pollinate Flowers? to this page about the amazing life cycles of social and solitary wasps.
Go from Do Wasps Pollinate Flowers? to this page about wasp nests and how to prevent them if you are afraid of wasps.
Wasp Sting Treatment And Prevention
Go from Do Wasps Pollinate Flowers? to this page explaining how to avoid stings, and first aid, in the event that you should be stung by a wasp.
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