As It Happens

It's time to lose the 'negative attitude' about wasps, says researcher

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that people like bees and dislike wasps," reads the introduction to a new paper published in the journal Ecological Entomology.

Study finds people like bees way better than wasps, even though both play a valuable role in the ecosystem

Wasps are wildly unpopular compared to other flying insects, a new study has found. (Julian Stratens/AFP/Getty Images)

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that people like bees and dislike wasps," reads the introduction of a new study published in the journal Ecological Entomology.

The University College London researchers set out to test that statement and found it to be absolutely true — much to their dismay.

"Everybody knows the importance of bees. If you ask anybody, everybody will say, OK, bees make honey, they pollinate our crops, we can have a good and nice breakfast because of bees," ethologist Alessandro Cini, co-author of the study, told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"Whereas almost nobody knows the importance of wasps."

Ethologist Alessandro Cini records paper wasps. (Submitted by Alessandro Cini )

The researchers surveyed 748 people in 46 countries about their feelings toward bees, wasps, flies and butterflies. Butterflies turned out to be the most popular, followed by bees and then flies. 

Wasps were by far the most reviled.

Participants were asked to rank the insects on a scale of five, which indicates a strong positive emotional response, to negative five, which indicates a strong negative emotional response.

The vast majority of people ranked bees at three or higher, while wasps were mostly rated in the negative.

When people were asked to name three words associated with bees, most said "honey," "flowers" and "pollination." For wasps, they said "sting," "annoying" and "dangerous."

Bees are more likely to be associated with flowers and pollination. (Phillipe Huguen/AFP/Getty Images)

"It's true that they sting and they can bother us during our summer picnics, but it's also true that the role they play in the ecosystem is far more important than these little problems," Cini said.

For example, despite their propensity to go after our wine and barbecue for the sugar and protein, wasps primarily feed on other insects.

That means they eat the pests that devour our crops and the insects that spread disease. 

Wasps largely feed on other insects. Here, a wasp neutralizes a horsefly on a plum. (Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)

What's more, Cini​ said, the "cultural stigma" around wasps makes them particularly vulnerable to climate change and habitat loss.

That's partly because nobody cares enough to put effort into their protection and conservation, Cini said, and partly because there are fewer scientific studies of wasps.

The researchers looked at 908 scientific papers published since 1980, and found 22 were about wasps, while 886 were about bees.

Cini theorizes this is because scientists share the same anti-wasp biases as the wider public, and because there's more funding to go around for bee studies. 

Wasps hover towards their nest in Frankfurt, Germany. (Frank Rumpenhorst/AFP/Getty Images)

"If people don't recognize their importance, they won't engage in their protection. They will try to kill as many wasps as they can whenever they encounter them," Cini said. 

"So we need to turn around this negative attitude toward wasps. We need to study them and protect them and to take all the benefits they can give us."

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Katie Geleff.