Despite the divisions of language, culture, race, gender, politics and religion, humanity seems to share a universal hatred of wasps. I, like so many others, was once afraid of stinging insects. I laughed along when people said wasps come from hell and go straight back down when they die. However, after observing, researching, and working alongside wasps, I drifted into the universally hated camp of people who like wasps. Wasps don’t deserve the reputation they’ve been given as the fallen angels of the bee family.
A few summers ago paper wasps built a nest in my family’s yard. It was terrifying at first. Every day a wasp drifted around me as I gardened, sometimes perching on my arms or shoulders. Its lack of aggression helped my fear turn into curiosity, and curiosity to a cautious affection for my gardening partner. I named the wasp Evangeline. While I was there, she pollinated. While I was away, she and her sisters picked off the gnats and caterpillars who gnawed holes in my plants, fed their children and worked on their nest. We lived our separate lives in peace.
People often ask me why they should coexist with an animal that could hurt them. However, most of us already do. Dogs rank second on the list of animals most likely to kill people. We adore them nonetheless and rarely think twice about bringing them into our homes or leaving them alone with our children. The benefit outweighs the risk of an animal we bred over thousands of years to dependently obey, communicate with and please us. The animals that we fear most are not the ones who kill us, but the ones with autonomy, defense mechanisms and a realistic view of humanity as a threat.
I often question the ways we judge whether something deserves to live or die. The movement to save the bees, a close relative of wasps, is an excellent example of our selfishness. The movement is primarily focused on honeybees. Never mind that honeybees are not a native species and are less productive than the native solarity bee populations. We act as if we care about honeybees not because we fear losing them, but because of the loss of the tangible addition they provide to our diet. It’s a strange and ugly reality that respect for any other life is composed of the ways it improves ours.
Still, I will not ask you to coexist with a useless animal. It would be wrong to finish this article without listing the ways wasps benefit us, not to justify their existence but to acknowledge their presence in each bite of food, each plant you watch grow, each breath you take that doesn’t fill your lungs with gnats. Without wasps there would be no figs. The yeast used to make alcoholic drinks would die out. The pest insects wasps prey upon would explode in number, destroying fields of crops and ruining your picnics with clouds of flies and mosquitos and an important pollinator would be lost.
This summer, I ask that you keep your distance from wasps rather than kill them for the sake of killing. Watch their delicate movements. If you’re curious observe the paper of their nests and the routine they follow throughout the day. Give names to the things you fear. If you’re feeling generous, offer them a drop of your lemonade. It’s true that if you kill a wasp, nothing will happen. No one will pause to mourn for a smear on the pavement. The cycle of life will continue until you are dead and forgotten just like it. Considering the fragility of our existence, I urge you to live with humility and kindness towards all life. In the end, we are all just food for insects.