We forget, or never knew, what good guys wasps are, but this superb article from the Spectator reminds us.
Dom Perignon, Pimms, Carling Black Label, Coca-Cola — one’s as good as the other, so far as they’re concerned. Even if they don’t manage to drown in the stuff, they spoil the taste for drinkers by creating panic out of all proportion to their size. They destroy the ardour of al-fresco lovers in an instant. They are the joy-killers: the destroyers of summer, determined to prove that the wild world is a plot against humanity.
Is there anything good about wasps? Is their sole purpose in life to harass humans seeking the fleeting joys of summer? Does this black-and-yellow air force exist only to ruin the few fine days reluctantly given to us?
If you garden, wasps are among your best friends. The common wasp is a top predator — capturing more than 4 million prey-loads, weighing 7.2lb per acre, every season. Their favourite prey is aphids, rose-killers and tormentors of every gardener’s favourite plants.
Wasps also show many traits we humans admire: loyalty, hard work and sacrifice of the self to a greater cause. The hooliganism they go in for towards the end of the summer is not a fair representation of vespine mores. And more important even than this is the wasps’ contribution to human civilisation. Wasps are responsible for the greatest single shift in our cultural history: like the invention of the internet, but far more radical. If you are reading this in a hard copy, praise the wasps: they are responsible for The Spectator. They are also responsible for Ulysses, Hamlet, The Origin of Species, the Bible, the Quran and Hello! magazine. (Of which more later.) We owe them gratitude, not hard words and flapping hands.
We never see the best of wasps because of the way they act in late summer, when their labour is done. Before that they have led exemplary lives. There are nine species of social wasps in this country, including the much-feared but comparatively mild–mannered hornet, and they’re all honest toilers for most of their existence. Hornets can give a pretty fearsome sting, but you have to go out of your way to experience it. They come into the ancient category of ‘this animal is dangerous — it defends itself when attacked’.
The lives of social wasps are renewed each year when the queens emerge from hibernation in spring, already mated and sated and buzzing with fertility. They seek out a hidden place, an abandoned mammal hole or a crack in a wall or a tree, and build a nest. It will contain around 30 cells and they will lay an egg in each. That nest is highly significant.