It’s easy to think wasps don’t have a lot going for them. After all, they’re super irritating during summer picnics, they sting you without provocation and they make sitting in a pub garden, well, a misery.

But wasps play a vital role in maintaining our ecosystem. Without them garden plants and crops would be stripped bare, according to experts.

That’s because the insects are natural predators for a range of pests that plague gardens and farms – including greenfly, caterpillars and flies.

caterpillars seen on cauliflower leaves
Those pesky caterpillars strip plants and crops bare (Anthony Devlin/PA)

There are 100,000 species of wasp across the world, ranging from common yellow jacket to the fearsome tarantula hawk wasp. In the UK, there are 9,000 different types. Yep, that’s a lot of wasps for us to swat away as we sip on a beer in the sunshine.

But Dr Seirian Sumner, a leading expert on wasps, said that the yellow jacket wasp – they’re the black and yellow insects often seen buzzing around British gardens, FYI – eats 8kg of prey each season.

“Wasps are useful and they are essential. The reason for this is that they are predators,” she said.

cabbages with holes in from caterpillars
Wasps prey on pests like caterpillars which damage important things like cabbages (Anthony Devlin/PA)

“Think of wasps as natural capital. There are 30,000 predatory species of wasp and the social wasp group are particularly important as predators simply because of the number of individuals each colony has.

“Social wasps will eat anything and they will pretty much go for any kind of material out there and that makes them incredibly valuable to our ecosystem.

“They control pests and eat the things we hate. We hate spiders and we hate cockroaches.

“We do not know the quantitative value of wasps. We know a lot about bees but if we get rid of wasps we won’t have any predators.”

wasps land on a tennis ball
Bet you didn’t know there are 30,000 predatory species of wasp…(Lewis Whyld/PA)

Dr Sumner, an entomologist at Bristol University, was discussing the importance of wasps during an event at the Cheltenham Science Festival with biologist Professor Adam Hart and zoologist Jules Howard.

She said that another benefit of wasps was as food because they were high in protein and around three billion people across the world regularly eat insects.

“In China the vast majority of insect food they consume is wasp larvae. Wasp larvae is very high in protein and low in fat. They are very nutritious,” she said.

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Yeah, not sure we’ll be trying wasps as a snack anytime soon…

Here’s the big question though – what would experts say is the top tip for getting rid of wasps from a picnic? Well, Prof Hart recommended swatting them. But Dr Sumner suggested a less lethal method.

“Social wasps recruit, so if one comes and gets a tasty morsel, it goes back to the nest to get others,” she said.

“The first wasp that comes – just put a glass over it. Stop it going back to the nest.”

Easier said than done…but thanks for the tip. We’ll keep it in mind next time we’re in a pub garden.