Why do people hate wasps, but love bees?

Aristotle was wrong about a lot of things, but his take on wasps is particularly annoying.

The European paper wasp pictured above (one of several to visit my garden on the day I made the photo) is not only beautiful but also an immensely helpful agent for controlling pests. They’re out there all day seeking caterpillars row by row.

In some locales, wasps are the most important pollinators for certain plants, surpassing bees. In one study assessing pollinators of the Brazilian pepper plant (Schinus terebinthifolius), wasp species were more abundant and diverse than bee species visiting the flowers. Another study found that Western yellowjackets (Vespula pensylvanica) outperformed honey bees (Apis mellifera) as pollinators of California figwort (Scrophularia californica). Researchers actually counted the median number of pollen grains delivered per individual floral visitor:

  • Yellowjackets: 34
  • Bumblebees: 9
  • Honey bees: 4
A Western yellowjacket sips from a birdbath in my garden.

Look at the typical words people use to describe wasps and flies vs. bees and butterflies: (from a really eye-opening paper by Seirian Sumner, Georgia Law and Alessandro Cini.)

“Our dislike of wasps is largely shaped by a group of wasps that represent less than 1% of the aculeate (stinging) wasps,” i.e., yellowjackets and hornets, these authors point out.

Don’t hate on species like this adorable paper wasp:

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