Love wasps because they can treat cancer, say scientists

We should love wasps as much as we do bees because they’re good for the environment – and their venom can be used to treat cancer – scientists have said.

Many of us may fear the summer barbecue moment when wasps land and linger annoyingly over sweet drinks, grilled dishes and ketchup – and no beating seems to get rid of them.

But wasps and other garden insects aren’t all bad, experts insist.

A recent study led by researchers from UCL and the University of East Anglia found that wasps should be valued as much as other insects for their role as pollinators and predators, and they even produce powerful antibiotics in their venom.

The yellow vests and hornets can be pests at picnics, but they do eat caterpillars on vegetables, and research suggests yellow vests poison could even be a potential cancer treatment.

Andrew Salisbury, RHS Senior Entomologist, says there is reason to learn to love even the most demonized insects, whether it be to keep our gardens tidy or their weird and insane approach to survival. Here he shows us why …

Parasitoid wasps

With a size of less than 1 mm to more than 2 cm, parasitic wasps kill their host from the inside out. Although it can be viewed as gruesome – eggs are laid in a host insect and the larvae eat the body’s contents – the host often stays alive until the parasitoid larva emerges. There are thousands of species of these insects and they can help control greens and black flies, as well as caterpillars, with three species targeting the pesky lily beetle.

If you have the opportunity to observe them up close, in some species you will notice the long, long ovipositor, which can be several inches long, often mistakenly viewed as a sting. Not all are matte black or brown, many are available in red and yellow tones, some types even in metallic green or blue.

Catchy tunes

These fast moving creatures can be the bane of your life when you see them feast on your dahlias and chrysanthemums, but they also feed on carpel lice and help control the problem greens and black flies. Commercial fruit growers even use a product called “wigest” to provide refuge for earwigs and to control the number of pests in orchards.

Rarely for an insect does the female earwig take on parental care, staying with the eggs to protect them from predators and cannibalism by other earwigs, cleaning the eggs regularly to stop the growth of harmful fungi, and feeding the nymphs when they do hatched.

Moths

An unjust reputation for not being quite as conspicuous as its sibling butterflies, many moths pollinate plants after dark. There are more than 2,500 species in the UK and some are really eye-catching, like the elephant hawk with bright pink and olive stripes.

The caterpillar of this moth also grows to an amazing 8 cm with black and pink eye spots and a small “horn” on its back. Turning a blind eye to the damage some caterpillars cause will ensure a steady future supply of plants, fruits, and crops. Many predatory insects and other animals, such as birds and bats, are also an important part of the food chain and rely on moths as a source of food.

Devil’s Coach Horse

The 2 cm long Devil’s Carriage Horse (Ocypus olens) with a large jaw is a common garden insect and the largest member of the short-winged family. When disturbed, it opens its mouth threateningly and lifts its butt, revealing scent glands that give off a noticeably unpleasant odor.

During the day it hides under stones and rubble and at night it hunts for nudibranchs and other invertebrates. There are over 1,000 types of short-barreled species in the UK, ranging in size from less than 1mm to over 25mm in length. All are predatory and an important part of the natural balance in gardens.

Springtail

Springtails (Collembola), so called because they have a forked bouncing “tail” that allows them to jump in the air at the slightest hint of danger, are small hexapods that rarely grow longer than 5mm.

Springtails are an important part of healthy ecosystems and feed on rotting organic matter in the soil and the associated fungal growth. They can be found almost everywhere, including in the ground, high up in trees and even in Antarctica. Some species can be found in large numbers, form mats on the surface of water or become leaping masses in moist compost.

As one of the few groups of six-legged creatures that are not insects, there are over 250 species of springtail in the UK that come in a myriad of colors including bright yellow, pink, purple and even multi-colored.

For more information on garden insects, see rhs.org.uk

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