The wasp, the bad reputation

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If they do not produce honey, wasps have an important ecological role. Klaus Schulmann / GettyImages

By: Florent Guignard

Summer 2020 in France is a wasp summer. The black and yellow striped insect sometimes causes scenes of irrational panic. Nest destruction is increasing to protect humans. The wasp, unloved, does not sting more than the bee, however, and has an important ecological role.


It's the summer buzz in France: wasp raids as soon as you put a melon or a grill on the meal table. No scientific data is available, but all the empirical observations point in the same direction, almost everywhere in France: the summer of 2020 is a wasp summer, undoubtedly because of a winter and a mild spring, and a dry summer. As evidenced by companies specializing in the destruction of nests, which are overwhelmed. " It's been 30 years since we had so many wasps in private homes, " says Vanessa Hatchikian, who works for the company As2Pic. That morning, on the eve of the start of the new school year, a Parisian high school called on its services.

An underground wasp nest has been spotted in the yard. In a full suit, armed with a sprayer, the young woman is about to "neutralize" the colony which does not look bad though. A few wasps go about their business, entering and exiting a hole in the earth of an old plantation. In the sprayer, a white powder that will kill the wasps and contaminate the entire nest. " The ideal is to get as close as possible to the nest, to kill the queen " , explains Vanessa Hatchikian. The queen, the only wasp empowered to give life. The work of the other wasps, the workers, is entirely devoted to him.

Only the female stings

When the queen dies, the wasps carve, the colony disappears. This will be the case in a few hours, and at the start of the school year, the students will not risk being bitten. Even if the risk is ultimately minimal, as long as you don't panic at the slightest hum. The danger is when people are afraid,” recalls Vanessa Hatchikian. They move a lot, the wasp then feels in danger, and it stings. You just have to let it slide… And everything will be fine. Peaceful cohabitation between humans and wasps is possible!

With wasps and bees, it's like with mosquitoes: only females bite. " Males do not have a stinger, only a copulating organ," explains Eric Darrouzet, specialist in social insects at the University of Tours. The function of the females is to take care of all activities in the nest, except for the laying, which is the queen's exclusive job. Besides collecting food, or building the nest, the workers have to defend the colony against any predator or intruder. Their means of defense is the use of a stinger that injects the venom, which causes pain that scares the intruder away or can kill them if they are very sensitive or if they are very small. . " In humans, only allergic people feared wasp stings. About fifteen deaths are thus recorded each year in France.

A role of pollination and regulation

The male, in wasps, is not in charge of defending the colony. Its only function is reproduction. A male, moreover, not very courageous: " When the nest is disturbed, only the workers will defend it, the males do not come out," continues Eric Darrouzet. Sometimes we can see a male coming out of the nest to see what is happening, before entering the nest, to hide inside and above all not come out. "

The wasp is unloved because it does not produce honey. And yet ... It is not more aggressive than the bee, and also has its uses. She can go to the flowers, to collect nectar, sugar, to feed herself. Sometimes pollen, to recover some vegetable proteins. Going from flower to flower participates in the pollination of these flowers, as do bees and many other insects. "

The wasp is an insect like any other, just as useful for biological balance. " Wasps are predators, carnivores," Eric Darrouzet reminds us. The workers hunt other insects, to bring meat to the nest in a way, to feed the larvae. This makes it possible to control the population level of various insects. " Pests ", crop pests, but also flies and mosquitoes. Wasps therefore have an important ecological role. » Don't you like mosquitoes? We will have to appreciate the wasps!

And the zebra, is it white with black stripes or black with white stripes—?

This question has haunted the African savannas for millennia, but science is categorical: when it is still only an embryo of just a few weeks, the zebra is black, the stripes, white, only appear afterwards. At the beginning, moreover, millions of years ago, the zebra was probably all black, even if science is not certain. It was only during evolution that stripes would have appeared, to camouflage themselves, to protect themselves from insects, or from heat. Each zebra has its own welts, like fingerprints. A little black a little white, an avant-garde symbol of diversity.

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