What If We Killed All the Wasps?


♪ Wasps seem to be best known for stinging people,
ruining picnics, and generally being jerks. But believe it or not, our lives are actually
a lot better because of them. Wasps are nuisance bugs, but they kill lots
of other nuisance bugs and are important pollinators. And scientists even think that certain compounds
in wasp venom could be used as cancer therapies or new antimicrobials. So while you might have daydreamed of humans
wiping out every wasp on the planet, it would actually be a pretty terrible idea. First, even though wasps may seem like pests
themselves, they’re actually important pest control agents, taking out other insects that
are harmful to forests or crops. Take yellow jackets — the group you probably
think of when you hear the word wasp. Although these guys will try to steal a taste
of your sugary soft drink or fruit, they also collect lots of insects to feed to their larvae. And predatory wasps like yellow jackets make
up just a tiny fraction of specie of wasp. In fact, most wasps — maybe as many as 2
million species of them — are parasitoid wasps. And they have a whole different way of taking
down insects. Parasitoids use special venom to paralyze
or zombie-fy other bugs, then lay their eggs on or inside the unfortunate host. The host is then slowly eaten alive. And while this is pretty gruesome, it’s
also helpful for farmers. Parasitoid wasps help control crop-destroying
pests like aphids and caterpillars. In fact, one genus — called Trichogramma
— is an essential biocontrol agent. Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of square
kilometers of crops and forests are treated with these wasps to control pests. And that translates to a lot of harmful insects. So the next time you’re able to stock up
on fresh produce at the grocery store, you might have a wasp to thank. Besides defending them from insects, wasps
are also important pollinators for certain plants, although the way they do it is often
a bit weird. For example, some species of orchids actually
trick male wasps into pollinating them by looking like a hot female wasp. And the relationship wasps have with figs
is even weirder, but arguably even more important. Figs have flowers that grow inside a mostly-enclosed
shell called the syconium, and they can’t be pollinated by the wind or by most insects. Instead, they usually have to be pollinated
by a specific group of wasp species. First, the female wasp lays her eggs inside
the flowers, then dies in the syconium. When the new wasps hatch, they stick around,
grow up, and eventually mate inside the fig plant. And yes, they are siblings — which can lead
to problems, but generally works out okay. After mating, the blind, flightless males
chew a hole in the plant so that the females can escape. Then, the females take pollen from the fig
flowers and go in search of another fig tree with another syconium. And the process starts all over again. This is a mutually beneficial relationship
for both the insects and the trees. And while most figs grown for human consumption
can be produced without wasps, wild figs are completely dependent on them to reproduce. These fruits are surprisingly important, too. They’re known as a keystone species, and
are consumed by over 1200 types of animals, including birds, fruit bats, and primates. Scientists even think figs might have been
a vital food source for early humans. So by pollinating them, wasps help to maintain
tropical and sub-tropical forest ecosystems all over the world. And your family tree might also have them
to thank. Finally, wasps aren’t just worth keeping
around for our plants. If we killed them all off, we might also be
missing out on an important medical resource. See, wasp venom contains a class of peptides,
which are essentially small proteins, called mastoparans. And although they’re toxic, mastoparans
could treat diseases if they’re used in the right way. Recently, several studies have investigated
whether they could be used to treat cancer. A 2015 study from the journal Peptides found
that they increased survival in a mouse model of melanoma. And a 2016 study demonstrated that mastoparans
could also kill several types of cancer cells by splitting open the cell membranes. This peptide was more toxic to cancer cells
than to healthy cells, too. Right now, scientists aren’t sure exactly
why, but they think it’s because cancer cell membranes have different properties than
healthy cells. For example, they have more of a negative
electrical charge, which could attract the positively-charged mastoparan. Several studies have even shown that these
peptides might be useful antibiotics. They’ve been shown to be effective at killing
several types of bacteria and fungi that can infect humans. In a 2017 study published in the International
Journal of Antimicrobial Agents, a mastoparan peptide was shown to significantly reduce
the number of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria in mice. This is an extremely common and potentially
dangerous human pathogen, and causes everything from skin infections to pneumonia. It can even cause blood, heart, and bone infections. In this study, after six days of applying
the mastoparan to cuts infected with the bacteria, there were significantly fewer S. aureus. There’s a lot more research to be done before
wasp venom therapies are ready to be tested on humans, but they are definitely worth investigating
further. So, even though wasps are kind of obnoxious,
they play a really important role in the environment. And maybe one day, they’ll play a big role
in human health. Which means that, as great as it would be
to never have one buzzing around your next picnic or trip to the cider mill, they’re
worth keeping around. Besides, if we’re going to eliminate an
animal from the earth, it should obviously be the ticks. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow! If you’d like to learn more about surprisingly
useful insects, you can watch our episode on what would happen if we killed all of the
world’s mosquitos, and look forward to the one in which we talk about why ticks are good
I guess! ♪

100 thoughts on “What If We Killed All the Wasps?”

  1. I'd rather have a Pinching Wasp World than a Stinging Wasp World, I know that a pinch and a Sting feel the same despite never being stung.

  2. I think wasps need the be a protected species. This spray stuff it a long and painful death.(Except Raid and Spectracide) But even with the brands I listed it is still painful. I usually leave it. If I have to remove it I would rather try to bag it first and spray at a last resort.

  3. all human disease was good to keep us from overpopulating the planet, because it originally kept us from building unhealthyly big and dirty citys.
    since we controle disease, there is only limited space on earth, which is unnatural and prevents most of further evolution as survival is much to easy.
    I know that not many people see it this way and I can understand their view and if it is this way now, it was always supposed to become this way now, but from a certain perspective you could see disease still as a good thing.

  4. There is a racetrack near where I live that breeds stingless wasps, because the wasps eat the fly eggs that get produced in large quantities because flies are attracted to the the considerable amount of horse manure. So yes, definitely have a purpose. But would like to see more of them be stingless.

  5. A few years ago, I was stung repeatedly by a swarm of yellow jackets while I was doing an outdoor obstacle course. I have anxiety of wasps ever since, they were not supposed to be part of the obstacle.

  6. A bit off topic but what if you somehow get rid of one particular unimportant kind of bug? Would it matter? I know that there's always a reason why things are the way they are, I just can't answer that question. Also, why is there so many kinds of wasps? Any reason?

  7. In my opinion I suggest breeding wasps without stingers then releasing them so their offspring don't have the ability to sting you.

  8. You didn't mention that Japanese giant hornets which are the largest wasp on earth, eat honeybees, and that they are aggressive towards humans, and their stings cause your skin to rot.

  9. I have never thought about getting rid of every wasp but I have thought about getting rid of every mosquito on earth. Got any reasons we should do that?

  10. The fig tree being early human food makes sense since the Bodhi Tree, holy in Buddhism and in Hinduism with a Latin name including "religiosa" or something like that, is a fig tree. Interesting!!

  11. Okay, so I have a question: if you fed wasps human food scraps, rotting meat, road kill, and expired meat, would there be any problem feeding those wasps to chickens?

    Would that mean their eggs would no longer be vegetarian?

    Also, would wasps eat things, like animal brains?
    If you fed chicken brains to wasps, then fed those wasps to chickens, would that lead to an issue of folding prions? Mad chickens?

    I am not a mad man, just wondering since wasps do eat meat, could the be used to consume excess, decaying meats?

    Instead of it rotting away in landfills…instead, ultimately feeding chickens.

    I have the understanding that chickens love wasps, at least their larva.

  12. Lets just kill yellowjackets then? If they're the smallest percentage pf wasp types then the impact of their dissappearance would be tiny.
    And thats the type of wasps that makes us hate wasps in the first place so if they die the outroar about wasps would be gone wouldnt it?

  13. So, wasps remove pest bugs that we dont want anyway. I also did some research on tics, and found at best that people THINK they add an insignificant amount of food to the ecosystem.

    Kill the wasps, I legit dont care, they arent pollinators like the natural bees and honeybees, if it was true that wasp venom killed cancer cells, we would DEFINITELY have already seen the effects. Are you honestly gonna tell me we havent researched wasps until right now today? If they cured cancer, we legit wouldn't have cancer by now.

    And ticks. I'm glad we agree on ticks. Screw em.

    Mosquitos I'm unsure about, havent researched it enough

  14. Literally 99% of the comments are from people who apparently did not listen to anything said in the video.

    The answer is that it is a very bad idea. Exterminating over 75,000 VERY different species of wasp (INCLUDING the ones you specifically don’t like, such as yellow jackets) is a very shortsighted and misguided mindset that very obviously shows someone’s lack of knowledge on how ecology works.

  15. i didn't know they are pollinators…. but, yeah i'm still gonna kill every nest i find on my property, usually in my fruit trees! hate the little bastards, especially the bald faced hornets. luckily i have a guy with 50 bee hives a quarter mile away, so i'm not worried about pollination of my fruit trees. thanks for the interesting info.

  16. All these comments about friendly wasps then you must have not met the suzumebachi hornet of east asia its a monster that kills people every year these things are all over japan in the summer time they're as big as your toe😐

  17. Ok this video got me convinced. But we should definitely find a way to stop wasps from getting into our house

  18. As a former farmer, I can safely say that wasps are highly beneficial. Especially the European hornet, they are more harmless than harmful. I had a huge problem with armyworms until they built a nest in an old horse shed right next to my vegetable field.

  19. Forgot how Americans pronounce wasp….. This video reminded me almost every 5 seconds that its it's annoying…..

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