Nav: Home

Why do we love bees but hate wasps?

September 18, 2018

A lack of understanding of the important role of wasps in the ecosystem and economy is a fundamental reason why they are universally despised whereas bees are much loved, according to UCL-led research.

Both bees and wasps are two of humanity's most ecologically and economically important organisms. They both pollinate our flowers and crops, but wasps also regulate populations of crop pests and insects that carry human diseases.

"It's clear we have a very different emotional connection to wasps than to bees - we have lived in harmony with bees for a very long time, domesticating some species, but human-wasp interactions are often unpleasant as they ruin picnics and nest in our homes," explained study author, Dr Seirian Sumner (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment).

"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."

For the study, published today in Ecological Entomology and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council and the European Commission through the Marie Curie fellowship, 748 members of the public from 46 countries were surveyed (70% of respondents were from the UK) on their perceptions of insects, including bees and wasps.

Responses revealed that wasps are indeed universally disliked by the public and this is most likely due to a low-level interest in nature and a lack of knowledge about the benefits wasps bring to our planet's health and function.

How much research is being done to better understand these misunderstood creatures was also investigated. The team found that wasps are an unpopular choice of insect for researchers to study which likely compounds their negative image as little effort is being made to comprehend and communicate their positive role in the ecosystem.

The scientists discovered this by quantifying the number of scientific research papers and conference presentations for bees and wasps over the last 37 years and 16 years respectively.

Of 908 papers sampled, only 2.4% (22 papers) wasp publications were found since 1980, compared to 97.6% (886 papers) bee publications.

Of 2,543 conference abstracts on bees or wasps from the last twenty years, 81.3% were on bees.

Our dislike of wasps is largely shaped by a small number of species of social wasps - the yellowjackets and hornets - which represent less than 1% of stinging wasps but are most likely to come into contact with humans. There are 67 species of social wasps, but the vast majority of wasps - in excess of 75,000 species - are solitary.

The bothersome nature of social wasps fuels the perception that wasps are more dangerous than bees, although each elicit a similarly painful sting.

Survey respondents were asked to provide three words to describe bees, butterflies, wasps and flies, and to rank how seeing each insect made them feel regardless of their importance in ecosystems and the environment.

Analysis showed that butterflies receive the highest level of positive emotion, followed closely by bees, and then flies and wasps. Overall, bees are more liked than butterflies. The researchers also found that personal interest in nature explained whether people understood the importance of wasps as natural pest controllers and predators.

All insects are under threat from climate change and habitat loss, so the team say that maintaining insect abundance and diversity should be a priority.

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

"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."
-end-


University College London

Related Butterflies Articles:

Scientists identify British butterflies most threatened by climate change
Many British butterflies and moths have been responding to warmer temperatures by emerging earlier in the year and for the first time scientists have identified why this is creating winners and losers among species.
Cities are key to saving monarch butterflies
Monarch butterflies are at risk of disappearing from most of the US, and to save them, we need to plant milkweed for them to lay their eggs on.
Butterflies are genetically wired to choose a mate that looks just like them
Male butterflies have genes which give them a sexual preference for a partner with a similar appearance to themselves, according to new research.
Butterflies thrive in grasslands surrounded by forest
For pollinating butterflies, it is more important to be close to forests than to agricultural fields, according to a study of 32,000 butterflies by researchers at Linköping University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala.
Fewer monarch butterflies are reaching their overwintering destination
The monarch butterfly is currently experiencing dire problems with its migration in eastern North America.
Butterflies of the soul
A new study reveals how interneurons, dubbed 'the butterflies of the soul,' emerge and diversify in the brain.
At last, butterflies get a bigger, better evolutionary tree
Butterflies offer key insights into community ecology, how species originate and evolve, climate change and interactions between plants and insects.
Earliest fossil evidence of butterflies and moths
Researchers working in Germany have unearthed the earliest known fossil evidence of insects from the order Lepidoptera, which includes butterflies and moths.
How a 'flipped' gene helped butterflies evolve mimicry
Scientists from the University of Chicago analyzed genetic data from a group of swallowtail species to find out when and how mimicry first evolved, and what has been driving those changes since then.
Convergent evolution of mimetic butterflies confounds classification
David Lohman, associate professor of biology at The City College of New York's Division of Science, is co-author of a landmark paper on butterflies 'An illustrated checklist of the genus Elymnias Hübner, 1818 (Nymphalidae, Satyrinae).' Lohman and his colleagues from Taiwan and Indonesia revise the taxonomy of Asian palmflies in the genus Elymnias in light of a forthcoming study on the butterflies' evolutionary history.
More Butterflies News and Butterflies Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#541 Wayfinding
These days when we want to know where we are or how to get where we want to go, most of us will pull out a smart phone with a built-in GPS and map app. Some of us old timers might still use an old school paper map from time to time. But we didn't always used to lean so heavily on maps and technology, and in some remote places of the world some people still navigate and wayfind their way without the aid of these tools... and in some cases do better without them. This week, host Rachelle Saunders...
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.