Why do people love bees but hate wasps?

Global - wasps TD Farm
ABOVE: Love one, hate the other. (Photo: Sotrenson)

University College London resear-chers say it’s all because of a lack of understanding of the important role of wasps in the ecosystem and economy.

The UCL-led research team says both bees and wasps are two of humanity’s most ecologically and economically important organisms. They both pollinate flowers and crops, but wasps also regulate 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,” says study author Seirian Sumner of 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 in Ecological Entomology, 748 members of the public from 46 countries were surveyed – 70 per cent of them from the UK – on their perceptions of insects, including bees and wasps.

Wasps, it was found, are universally disliked and this is most likely due to a low-level interest in nature and a lack of knowledge about the benefits wasps bring to the planet’s health and function.

Wasps are also an unpopular choice of insect for researchers to study which likely compounds their negative image.

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

Of 2,543 conference abstracts on bees or wasps from the past 20 years, 81.3 per cent were on bees.

The dislike of wasps is largely shaped by a small number of species of social wasps – the yellowjackets and hornets – which represent less than one per cent 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.

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.

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.

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

“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.”

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