WASPS: THE MISUNDERSTOOD INSECTS
In everyday life encounters, wasps make most people very uncomfortable, forcing some people to run away when they are nearby. This widespread reaction is reasonable considering the belief that wasps do nothing except sting, but this could not be farther from the truth. In reality, wasps provide two major benefits to humans, such as pest control and pollination.
Pest control wasps are a great tool in farming. When thinking about pests, chances are there is a wasp out their that preys on it. Some wasps kill pests by consuming the insect entirely. These are most likely solitary wasps. If they are a social wasp, they will chew the insect up and feed it to their larvae. The adults then eat the milky clear excretion that comes from the larvae as their meal.
Some wasps use the pest for reproduction, using parasitism and in some cases mind control. My favorite example of this is the Emerald Wasp. The Emerald Wasp’s main target is a cockroach which it will quickly immobilize with two stings made with the accuracy of a neurosurgeon. The first sting targets the thoracic ganglion in the spine which temporarily immobilizes the roaches front legs. This paralysis allows for the second sting directly to the brain shutting down the cockroach’s flight response. The wasp then chews off half of the roach’s antenna for an, as of yet unknown reason, and then proceeds to pull the pest like a leash to its lair. Once the burrow has been reached it lays a single egg on the roach’s abdomen with a stinger-like body part called an ovipositor and imprisons it in the lair. Since the roach’s flight response has been eliminated it will sit in the lair unmoving until it is consumed by the baby wasp inside of it. To add to the amazingness of this wasp, it has also been found that while the larvae are inside of the cockroach they are consistently bathing themselves in a self-secreted antibacterial material to protect against the roaches internal bacteria. Parasitic wasps, such as these, are becoming more abundant in agriculture to help control pests known as bio control.
The second group of wasps is the pollinating wasps. This group is not nearly as large and abundant as the pest control wasps, but it still has some serious contenders. Within the natural world, most plants are able to be pollinated by multiple pollinators, however sometimes a plant makes a special relationship with its pollinator. When this happens a specific pollinator may become the only pollinator for a specific plant. Although many pollinating wasps are general pollinators, there are some that are solely responsible for the reproduction of a specific plant. An example of this is the fig wasp. The fig wasp is the exclusive pollinator for figs and are parasitic. Besides being an exclusive pollinator, the fig wasp’s life cycle is pretty intense. It all starts with a female fig wasp. First the female wasp finds an immature fig and enters it through an incredibly small hole called an ostiole and deposits her eggs. Upon entering the ostiole, the female pollinates the immature fig with pollen from the fig she was born in. The female fig wasp then dies having completed her job. Now is when things get really interesting. First the male fig wasps will hatch to complete the two purposes they have before they die. The first is to fertilize the eggs inside of the still unborn females and the second is to chew a small hole through the walls of the fig in order for the females to escape. After these two tasks are completed, the males die and the females are born to repeat the cycle over again.
As patrons of this planet we must always be aware that everything that exists has a purpose even if it poses a potential danger to us. We must always be willing to look past an organisms defenses and behavioral mechanisms and see it for what it truly is and the benefits it can bring. Only by looking past the things that make us uncomfortable and scared can we truly begin to see just how amazing things are. So the next time you encounter a wasp I hope you choose to face the experience with understanding and not fear.