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Not A Fan Of Wasps? Well, This One Could Revolutionize Farming
October 17, 2012
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wasps-and-crops-feature.jpg

What are wasps for?

Unlike bees, the vast majority of wasp species don't pollinate plants. They have evil-looking stingers that inflict pain on whoever they touch. And those stingers are smooth so they can be used again and again.

Basically, wasps are the orcs of the animal world: they seem to exist only to serve evil ends.

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As poet Dylan Thomas says in 'A Child's Christmas in Wales,' when he was a kid he read "books which told me everything about the wasp, except why."

Well, here's one possible reason why we should be grateful that wasps exist: scientists have discovered a new species of wasp they say could be the solution to eradicating pests that damage farmers' crops.

If they are correct, farmers could use the creatures to replace pesticides in protecting their food crops, lowering costs and reducing environmental impacts.

Click the image below to see the BBC's video report on the new wasps:

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The wasps in question are very small - you need a microscope to see them. But they could have a huge effect on farming, because they are natural predators for aphids, insects that eat crops and spread disease.

Before you start feeling warm and fuzzy about this new species of farmer-helping wasp, though, consider this: they are even scarier than the wasps we're used to.

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Dr. Darren Evans, a researcher at the University of Hull, says "their biology is almost like something out of the film 'Alien.'

They find their insect prey and they essentially inject an egg into the body.

It hatches, it starts developing inside the host, and then at some point, it bursts out and starts reproducing itself."

So they're basically a tiny version of the monster from the 'Alien' movies:

wasps-and-crops-alien-feature-1.jpg

At this point, you might be feeling sorry for the aphids. But they're responsible for a 25 per cent reduction in crop yields, according to the UK National Farmers Union, so farmers probably wouldn't think twice about unleashing an Alien-like menace to take the aphid community down.

While using predator insects in place of pesticides is a common practice in commercial greenhouses, it hasn't been tried in open fields before.

The idea could present challenges: farmers would have to attract the wasp species to their land and find ways to keep it there.

But there are big environmental and cost benefits attached to replacing some of the pesticides that farmers currently use.

As Dr. Evans says, "harnessing nature for crop production is quite high on the political agenda."

He cautions, "I'm not saying necessarily that these wasps will replace pesticides altogether, but they are another tool that farmers could potentially exploit."

Related:

THEY'RE BACK: Extinct Species That Reappeared

Let's End It: April 25th Is International Malaria Day

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