Wasp Love!

May 20, 2015

"Wasp love."

You don't hear those two words often, but you'll hear them often from Amy Toth, who's hoping that the hashtag, #wasplove, will draw attention to the wonderful world of wasps.

Toth, known for her work on bee and wasp behavior,genomics, and evolution, is an assistant professor--and outspoken wasp lover--from the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology, Iowa State University, Ames.

She delivered a presentation on honey bees at the UC Davis Bee Symposium on May 9. Then on May 13, she discussed her research on wasps at a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar.

The Bee Symposium showcased a "lot of bee love," and she's hoping that the same love will apply to wasps.

Indeed, folks verbally attack these social insects daily on social media. "I hate them," they say. "What good are they?"  To be honest, I've witnessed European paper wasps (Polistes dominula) attacking crippled Gulf Fritillary butterflies in our bee garden, and dismembering and carrying off bits of Gulf Frit caterpillars to feed their colony. Wasps are carnivores. Honey bees are vegetarians.

However, wasps are pollinators and they attack pests of agricultural crops, Toth told the Department of Entomology and Nematology at her seminar. Her audience nodded.

So, we asked Amy Toth to list what she loves about wasps.

She eagerly obliged!

1. They are pollinators 

2. They contribute to biocontrol of lepidopteran pests in gardens and on decorative plants

3.  They have been shown to carry yeasts to winemaking grapes that may be important contributors to the fermentation process and wonderful flavors in wine!

4. They are the only known insect (Polistes fuscatus) that can recognize each other as individuals by their faces.

5. They are devoted mothers that will dote on their young all day long for weeks, defending their families with fury.

6. Their social behavior, in my opinion, is the most human-like of any insect.  They know each other as individuals, and are great cooperators overall, but there is an undercurrent of selfishness to their behavior, manifest in nearly constant passive-aggressive interactions between individuals.

7. They are artists.  They make perfect hexagonal nest cells out of paper, which they make themselves out of tree bark + saliva.

8. They are extremely intelligent.  They're predators, architects, good navigators, and great learners.  Among insects, they have large brains, especially the mushroom bodies (learning/memory and cognition area of insect brain).

9. They are beautiful, complex, and fascinating creatures!

That's Amy Toth's amazing #wasplove list.

I'd like to add No. 10: They are extremely photogenic.

#wasplove! Think it will catch on?