Welcome to the mysterious world of the wasp. For fans of Other Minds and Entangled Life, The Gospel of Eels, this book introduces an insect that is 100 million years older, much cleverer and ten times more diverse than bees – and just as essential for the survival of the environment.
The book reveals in intricate, eye-opening detail how much we depend upon wasps: from their incredible diversity – their endless forms – to their complex social lives and how they hold our fragile ecosystem in balance.
Wasps demonstrate social behaviour and cognitive abilities that far outstrip other insects; and they are the root of the tree on which bees and ants are mere branches. Their social behaviour is the best model we have for the planet’s major evolutionary transitions, and their colony structures have taught us how altruism was invented in the natural world.
There are wasps that spend their entire lives sealed inside a species of fig; wasps that turn cockroaches into living zombies; and wasps that live within other wasps. There are stinging wasps, paper wasps, parasitic wasps, ground wasps, hornets; and wasps that build citadels that put our own societies to shame, marked by division of labour, rebellions and policing, monarchies, leadership contests, undertakers, police, negotiators, and social parasites.
These insects are fundamental to the planet’s ecological balance, both as predators and pollinators. Wasps are nature’s pest controllers and they keep the planet’s ecological balance in check. A world without wasps would be just as ecologically devastating as losing the bees, or beetles, or butterflies. And their forms, as you’ll discover from this book, are indeed almost endless: nearly every ecological niche on land is inhabited by a wasp. There’s a sense in which the Earth belongs to them; everything else is surface detail.