I had an engaging day over the weekend at the Kingcombe Centre in Dorset learning about solitary bees and wasps. I knew a bit about them – particularly solitary bees – but now I know a whole lot more, particularly about some of the weird wasps out there.
Your back garden is home to all sorts of completely unexpected solitary wasps. Spider and bee killing wasps. Wasps that dig and wasps that build nests. Tiny wasps and wasps with enormous needle like ovipositors. I think I can tell all the Apoidea (bees) from the solitary and social wasps (Scoliodea and Vespoidea) now, and the terrifying Pompiloidea (spider-hunting wasps) from beautiful metallic cuckoo wasps (Chrysidoidea) and digger wasps (Sphecoidea).
Our instructor Bryan was entertainingly rude about honeybees and Spheksophobics (another cool Latin word). Why all the fuss about a single bees species – honeybees – he asked, when there were hundreds of other completely ignored solitary bee species out there? Of all shapes and sizes, they pollinate all manner of plants the honeybee couldn’t*. And why did people not realize the good wasps do – even those pesky social wasps, whose colonies do for an average 150,000 garden pests in a season?
Apart from improving my uncertain Hymenoptera identification skills and understanding what a fabulous solitary bee and wasp habitat our new green roof will be, some more general truths struck me. Three, specifically, and none of them new:
1. People’s perceptions of what is going on outside their back doors can be easily and dramatically changed.
2. We know the square root of nothing about what is happening out there, and display an amazing lack of curiosity about it.
3. We can create micro habitats for an incredible and beguiling variety of invertebrates more easily than spelling “Hymenoptera”. Doing it is an enjoyable business.
So I’m drilling more bits of wood for solitary bee houses to plonk on our green roof and trying to overcome my own pet phobia, born of years of incomprehensible science lessons – long classical names.
*No letters please!