What creatures live in a vespiary wasp

Wasps, stings and why they fascinate

They are on everyone's lips right now, on television, on the radio, and especially on our cake: wasps are a concern of many people. That is why we asked the scientific director of our Hymenoptera collection, the hymenoptera such as wasps, bees and ants, for a little insight into his work and the world of wasps.

Michael, you are a curator for wasps, bees and ants at the Museum für Naturkunde and have just published your book “Stachel und Staat”. What is it that particularly fascinates you about the hymenoptera?

I don't even know where to start. Hymenoptera and especially the stinging wasps are marvels of evolution. With tens of thousands of known species, they are enormously diverse, and I have always been fascinated by the multitude of different adaptations that have arisen around the successful wasp model. In addition, wasps are particularly species-rich in the world's deserts, and I am very fond of deserts.

Why is the sting the most important invention of this group of insects?

Only the sting allowed the social wasps, bees and ants to build strong individual states. If many insects and their larvae and their food live together in a confined space, this is an attractive prey for predatory animals such as the honey badger. Such a thing must be defended, and the sting and the sting poisons injected with it are an effective protection against most enemies.

Everywhere you read about the death of insects and an alleged wasp plague at the same time. How does that fit together?

In fact, our insects are generally not doing well either, and all the data emphatically show that insect diversity and insect mass are decreasing dramatically. The so-called wasp plague is only about the increased occurrence of workers of two types of social wasps. Both species, the German and the common wasp, benefit from a dry, hot summer and then appear increasingly as cultural followers in our cities. But that shouldn't hide the fact that the insects are currently not doing well.

Today someone on Twitter asks: "Are wasps actually somehow useful"? What would you answer

I am also asked this question a lot. There are many answers to this, but the most important is certainly that wasps emerged as part of nature in the course of evolution and that their very existence makes it clear that they, like other species, are also part of the great network of life. If you want something more specific, it is especially the feeding of the wasp larvae with insects. A wasp state can devour enormous amounts of caterpillars, flies and other insects and thus also many insects that are harmful to us humans.

The honey bee as a pollinator is viewed by many as positive and worthy of protection. Why is it so much harder for wasps?

In addition to honey bees, there are around 550 species of wild bees in Germany alone, and with a few exceptions they all collect pollen and nectar for their larvae. They are usually very hairy and look fluffy and cozy. Wasps, on the other hand, do not produce honey and they also contribute to the pollination of flowers to a much lesser extent. They are hairless and look much more inaccessible. But I think that the media marketing and popularization by Maya the Bee and other films also contributed to shaping the image of the good bee and the bad wasp.

Hornets are the largest species of wasp in Germany. A few cases are just becoming known where they have attacked people. Do we have to be more afraid of them than of wasps?

No, there is no reason to be more afraid of hornets than of the other, smaller wasps. They are actually peaceful insects that go about their business on the nest and don't even allow themselves to be lured by a plum cake. We humans don't actually interest them at all. Events like the ones reported in the press are rare accidents, mostly caused by people falling below the necessary, respectful distance from the hornets. And then the actually peaceful hornets also fight back.

What is your tip for a relaxed piece of cake on the terrace?

If it's just a wasp or two, I'd just let them go. They are interested in the sweet things and after a while they disappear again. If there are significantly more, then the serenity is understandably over. Even with me. It is good to try some of the old home remedies, such as burning coffee grounds, and at times you will see an improvement in the situation. If that doesn't help, the only thing that really helps is to escape.

On Monday, Mark Benecke promoted more insect love in his evening lecture. How would you make love for them palatable to someone who is afraid of wasps and other insects?

I am convinced that knowing and looking closely can often help to be charmed by insects. Expecting love might be a bit of a stretch, but I advise anyone who is afraid of wasps to take the time to take a look at the wasp on the plum cake. Maybe not too close at first, but actually the wasp is more interested in jam than people. And then you will see what a miracle of evolution wasps are. And that, despite their sting, they should be treated with respect and benevolence. And last but not least, you should find out how wasps act as part of nature in natural history museums and books like my “Stachel und Staat”. One can only be amazed.

The image of wasps in Germany is very much influenced by the two very present and often considered annoying species German wasp (Paravespula germanica) and the common wasp (Paravespula vulgaris). However, there are at least 700 species of social wasps worldwide. Which are your favorites and why?

My favorite wasps are not just the social wasps, but the many thousands of species of solitary wasps. In these, each female builds a single, small nest, puts in food for the larvae, lays an egg on it, closes the nest and leaves the nursery to itself. We already know 10,000 species of digger wasps alone, which are a group of solitary species, which are particularly widespread in the world's deserts. But even here in Germany there are already around 250 species of digger wasps. This is an enormously diverse and fascinating group of wasps!

PD Dr. Michael Ohl is the Scientific Director of the Hymenoptera and Netwed Collection at the Museum für Naturkunde. His research focus is on the taxonomy, phylogeny and evolution of the hymenoptera. He is particularly interested in the highly diverse digger wasps. In addition, Michael Ohl is acting head of the Center for Integrative Biodiversity Discovery, newly founded in 2018, at the Museum für Naturkunde. In summer 2018 he published the book "Stachel und Staat" - a passionate natural history of bees, wasps and ants. For the book, Bernhard Schurian, photographer, specialist in digitization and insect lover at the Museum für Naturkunde, took numerous, fascinating macro photos of wasp species from all over the world. A little insight:

In conversation with wasp researcher Michael Ohl

Where can you find the largest wasp in the world? Is it life threatening? How dangerous are our wasps here in Germany? And what does beer have to do with wasps? Lisa Rufus alias the smart shit posed her questions to wasp researcher Micheal Ohl. You can find the video here: