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What’s the point of wasps? The proof is in the pollination! New survey aims to reveal whether wasps should have a better rep…

They pillage your picnic and pack a powerful sting, but a new survey aims to prove once and for all that a world without wasps would not be a better place.

Adam Hart, Professor of Science Communication at the University of Gloucestershire, and Seirian Sumner, Professor of Behavioural Ecology at University College London (UCL), have long argued that not only do wasps have a point, they are vital to our ecosystem.

And now they are asking the public to support a new survey that will provide further evidence for their research.

The Big Wasp Survey is asking people to post photographs on social media of wasps on flowers – using the hashtag #WaspFlower – so that more can be discovered about the role of wasps as pollinators. Few people realise that wasps do pollinate, just like bees and butterflies, but scientists know very little currently about which flowers benefit from wasp pollination and which wasps are most useful.

The insects we most commonly identify as wasps are the social wasps, who buzz around our barbecues seeking out sticky substances, but this is just a tiny fraction of overall wasp diversity, estimated at more than 7,000 species in the UK alone. Most wasps are solitary, some are tiny (a few species practically microscopic), never bother us and virtually all are overlooked.

Social wasps play a vital ecological role, as predators controlling the numbers of potential pests like greenfly and many caterpillars and protecting our crops and are gardens. But wasps are also now increasingly understood to be valuable pollinators, transferring pollen as they visit flowers to drink nectar. In fact, many species of orchids are entirely reliant on wasps for pollination!

It is that thirst for sweet liquids that might help to explain why they become so bothersome at this time of year. By late August, wasp nests have very large numbers of workers but they have stopped raising any larvae. All the time nests have larvae, the workers must collect protein, which accounts for all those invertebrates they hunt in our gardens. The larvae are able to convert their protein-rich diet into carbohydrates that they secrete as a sugary droplet to feed the adults.

With no larvae, all those adult wasps must find other sources of sugar – hence why they are so attracted to our sugar-rich foods and drinks.

Adam Hart, Professor of Science Communication at the University of Gloucestershire, said: “Insects are generally having a hard time; changing environments, changing climate, habitat loss and the use of insecticides are all taking their toll on these vital creatures.

“But while bees and butterflies are often revered and protected, some of the most fascinating and important insects remain the most reviled. It’s astonishing how little research has been carried out into the ecological and economic value of wasps, and their bad press has certainly not helped with that!

“The Big Wasp survey aims to change that and we’d love for people to get involved by stopping to take a snap when they see wasps on flowers in their gardens or while out for a walk. It’s time we stopped asking “what is the point of wasps” and started to appreciate them for the ecological marvels that they are!”

Here are some top tips for contributing your photos to the survey:

  1. If you take a picture of a wasp on a flower, don’t zoom in too much – macrophotography may provide too little information
  2. Make sure to get the entire flower and wasp in the picture
  3. Make sure both the wasp and the flower are in focus and the photo is of good quality
  4. If you are able to, take note of the species of plant the wasp was found on
  5. Post the photo on social media with the following hashtags: #waspflower  # the name of your country

Students from both the University of Gloucestershire and UCL have been involved in developing the survey and will be involved in data collection and analysis as the research project progresses throughout this summer and beyond.