Monday, July 25, 2016

A Defense Of Social Wasps

Stinging Insects
Pleading Innocent: Simon Barnes for The Spectator writes not only in defense of the wasp (Hymenoptera), but also says that humans ought to give them more respect than they often get, perhaps, even some gratitude: “Wasps changed the way we humans act as a species, but we have seldom shown much gratitude, or for that matter much sense. We have created a series of chemicals that kill invertebrates, never thinking for a second that it’s actually quite a good idea to look after insects. In parts of China they’ve got rid of insects so efficiently that they have to pollinate their fruit trees by hand. Wasps are important pollinators.”
Image Credit: Heath
Source: The Spectator

An article, by Simon Barnes, in The Spectator says that despite their bad reputations—one that I view as well-earned—wasps perform a valuable service for humanity. In effect, Barnes has decided to act as an advocate for all wasps, including social wasps, many of which sting. In “Why all civilized people should love wasps” (July 23, 2016), Barnes writes for the British magazine:
We never see the best of wasps because of the way they act in late summer, when their labour is done. Before that they have led exemplary lives. There are nine species of social wasps in this country, including the much-feared but comparatively mild–mannered hornet, and they’re all honest toilers for most of their existence. Hornets can give a pretty fearsome sting, but you have to go out of your way to experience it. They come into the ancient category of ‘this animal is dangerous — it defends itself when attacked’.
Seriously? I remain unconvinced and am not sorry about my unrepentant heart in regards to the stinging insects. (I know that many species of wasps are of the non-stinging variety, so my argument against wasps is about the stinging variety.) Social wasps, like the familiar yellow jacket (Vespula), sting, and such is my mental association. That they help humanity is overshadow by the fact that they sting, and act aggressively, despite protests from their advocates that they sting only in self-defense.

Well, here is a story of one social wasp that acted contrary to such theories. A number of years ago, I was at the beach with my family to celebrate Canada Day. It was a glorious July 1st holiday outing. We brought a cooler of food with us, including sandwiches of various cold cuts. While my wife and children were playing in the water, I was sitting in a chair, deciding to eat one of the sandwiches we had brought with us. As I placed the sandwich in my mouth and took a bite, unbeknownst to me, a wasp entered my mouth and stung me on my tongue. The pain was immediate, as was the accompanying swelling of my tongue. In what way, was this wasp defending itself?

As for being wonderful pollinators, honey bees (Apis) are also wonderful pollinators and rarely act in such an aggressive manner. I will welcome a bee over a stinging wasp any day. So, the best that I can muster is a begrudging admiration and respect for these stinging hooligans, and agree that their colors are beautiful and striking—albeit I do so from a distance. I think that I am being more than fair, considering the history and recent circumstances.

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For more, go to [TheSpectator]