We all love bees – those fluffy, industrious little workers who make delicious honey and help the environment. Not like wasps. Wasps are jerks. Right?
If you found yourself agreeing just then, you're certainly not alone. A recent study published in the journal Ecological Entomology has confirmed that people almost universally love bees and hate wasps – people like wasps even less than flies, and those guys are real sleazebags.
The study, which took the form of a survey of nearly 750 participants, also asked what words people associated with the buzzy brethren. People came up with "honey", "flowers", and "pollination" for bees, but wasps fared far worse, conjuring up words like "sting", "annoying" and "dangerous".
But that's a problem, according to study lead author Dr Seirian Sumner.
"We need to actively overhaul the negative image of wasps to protect the ecological benefits they bring to our planet," Sumner explained in a statement. "They are facing a similar decline to bees and that is something the world can’t afford."
Wasps, the researchers reveal, suffer a double whammy of bad press. First, there are the few bad apples ruining their reputation – those picnic-ruining yellowjackets and hornets actually represent less than 1 percent of stinging wasps, while almost all of the more than 75,000 species of wasp are solitary. Then, there's the seriously underwhelming wasp PR effort, which results in a lack of knowledge or interest in these misunderstood pollinators.
"Wasps are an unpopular choice of insect for researchers to study... little effort is being made to comprehend and communicate their positive role in the ecosystem," explains the press release. It notes that, out of over 900 research papers published since 1980, only 2.4 percent were on wasps, while the other 97.6 percent focused on bees.
All this means that wasps are being severely maligned, according to the team. And it's true that wasps play an important role in the ecosystem – they keep the world's pests at bay, pollinate flowers and trees, and perform adorable little belly-drumming dances to celebrate finding food. And, although people think they're more dangerous than bees, their stings are similarly painful – the sting of a yellowjacket rates the same as a honeybee's on the infamous Schmidt sting pain index.
Although more action is being taken recently to help protect bees, the researchers point out that all insects are at risk, both from climate change and habitat loss. The priority, the team explains, should be maintaining insect abundance and diversity.
"Global concern about the decline of pollinators has resulted in a phenomenal level of public interest in, and support of, bees," explained study co-author Dr Alessandro Cini. "It would be fantastic if this could be mirrored for wasps but it would need a complete cultural shift in attitudes."