Beyond the buzz and bother: Making a case for wasps

Hot summer months mean having a drink or meal on the patio or at a picnic. But that often means unwelcome guests, including wasps. 

August is boom time for the insects, and it's fair to say many find them more than a little pesky.

But Katie Marshall, an entomologist with the University of British Columbia's department of zoology, says wasps are more helpful than most people think — particularly when it comes to pest control. 

"For almost any agricultural crop you can think of there's an insect that will eat it, and there's a wasp that will eat that insect," Marshall told Stephen Quinn, host of The Early Edition

Wasps eat aphids — which are often found in greenhouses — spiders, caterpillars, and brown marmorated stink bugs, which are a big problem for fruit crops, says Marshall. 

The West Coast mostly sees German yellow jacket and western yellow jacket wasp populations. 

While they don't have as much hair as honeybees — allowing them to carry pollen from plant to plant — wasps are also pollinators. In fact, there are some plant species that only wasps can pollinate. 

"If it weren't for wasps we would not have figs," Marshall said. 

Frank Rumpenhorst/AFP/Getty Images

On the hunt

Wasps are on the hunt for sugary foods and even bits of meat early in the season, which is why they often buzz around people eating outside. 

"Wasps [are] kind of like us. They've got a bunch of kids at home and they really want to make sure that they get lots to eat ... they've just got a bunch of hungry mouths to feed."

The insects are often considered annoying because they are more aggressive than honeybees.

"That aggression is what allows them to be really good hunters. So the pest control they do is really dependent on that sort of aggressive behaviour of theirs."

If wasps are flying around you, just stay calm and don't bat them away, says Marshall. Let them do their thing and move on.

"The more agitated you get the more agitated they're going to get."

When eating outside, keep your food covered. That will keep wasps from being attracted to it, Marshall says.