I am a wasp - why am I important?

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Seirian Sumner is the voice of the wasp. It has amazing ecological value but humans usually think it’s a pest.



I am important to you because I am one of most important controllers of pests in nature. I am a hunter. I hunt the spiders that terrify you in the rainforests of Northern Australia. In the dry grasslands of Africa, I eat the flies that carry your diseases. In the fields of England, I hunt the insects that destroy the flowers you love. I am important because without me, wherever you are in the world, you could have far too many flies, spiders, locusts, caterpillars and grasshoppers. And for you who live in the suburbs, I look after your backyard: I eat the aphids as they kill your tomato plants, I hunt the caterpillars as they eat other plants.

I am important to you, the crop farmer, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America. I am part of your solution to growing food for your family, to help you live. You may not know this yet: I will help make your agriculture sustainable. You know that those chemicals you spray on your crops are bad for your own health and for nature. I understand, this is survival: your family, your children need that crop to grow, not to be eaten by caterpillars. I can help. I do help when you don’t notice me. Let me do my work: let me eat those fat worms from your crops. Let me feed my babies so you can feed yours. I help when I no one sees me; I live with you but no one knows. If you find me, you kill me. I understand why. Next time: don’t! Let us live: we’re on your side. Work with us, not against us. Use us. We help each other.

I am important because we wasps are strong. We do not fear you. This annoys you. We do not mind all the noises you make. We use your lights to find our food at night. Thank you. We notice the chemicals that you spray around like cheap perfume, and some of us die. But we are strong in numbers and we feed on many different things so we don’t usually only eat in one place that is full of toxins. You took away some of our natural nests of the past, but you have given us new nests: your loft or shed are excellent places for our many babies. You hate us because we are so good at surviving.

Some wasps work like a machine. I am important even though I am a tiny part of the machine. You made factories that eat the planet’s resources. This is your success. And your failure. Well done. But we wasps did this millions of years before you. We created the perfect factory line over millions of years of evolution. You can learn a lot from us, if you take the time to watch. We are a superorganism. We are like your largest factories, cities and societies with the way we work together and divide labour.

I am important because I am not a bee, but I am the original bee. The bees are my descendants, and they have forgotten how to hunt. They are a vegetarian version of me. In evolution, some of us lost their taste for meat, their babies started to eat pollen and nectar from flowers, and the bee was born. But there are a lot more of us: for every bee species, there are at least five different wasp species. But you do not like us. You love our cousins, you plant special flowers and even make special houses for them. You do this because you understand and value their usefulness to you, your society, your wellbeing, your food. But wasps were pollinating plants millions of years before the bees: today, we are important to more than 700 species of plants from more than 100 families. Some plants, like orchids, depend on us, not bees, for reproduction. They have evolved to attract us and we fly in and get covered with pollen. We pollinate. But remember this: bees pollinate because we pollinate. Bees, as our descendants, inherited our need to visit flowers for sugar; they developed a new use for the pollen from flowers, to feed their babies. Thank us for the pollinators you love.

I am important to people who will get cancer because of the chemicals I produce. My poison has many toxins, allergens, enzymes and amines. Evolution has given me this pharmacy toolkit. Some wasps use these chemicals to stun insects so their babies can eat them when they are still alive; some wasps use these toxins to defend their homes. I make a strong toxin called a mastoparan – it explodes cell walls and kills cells. I make this to defend myself and my society. You are learning to use the power of my toxins; my mastoparans are more toxic to cancer cells than normal cells. I am very important to you, the future cancer patient.

I am important to you all because I am a wasp.

Seirian Sumner (aka @waspwoman) is a Professor of Behavioural Ecology at University College London. She studies the ecology and evolution of wasp behaviour and runs the science project bigwaspsurvey.org.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: https://newint.org/features/2020/12/07/wasp-biodiversity-why-i-matter

(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)