Wasps and bees (Order Hymenoptera)

Wasps and bees, together with ants, belong to a group of insects called the Order Hymenoptera. This is one of the largest insect groups. There may be as many as 44 000 Australian species of Hymenoptera, most of them wasps and bees.

Wasps and bees have bad reputation because of the aggressive nature and painful stings of a few species. In fact, there is no other group of insects that is more beneficial to humans. Most wasps are parasites or predators of other insects, including many pest species, helping control their numbers. There are many examples of exotic pest insects being successfully controlled by introducing their wasp parasites from overseas.

Bees are vitally important for pollinating plants, including many orchard trees, vegetables and crops that we rely on for food. Some flower wasps pollinate orchids and the world’s many species of fig trees are pollinated by minute fig wasps. The honeybee also produces honey in commercial quantities.

Wasps and bees encompass a far greater variety of insects than most people realise. They include the vegetarian sawflies, the most primitive of wasps. The vast majority of wasps are parasites including many that are minute. Honeybees are familiar to most, but few people know about our native stingless bees that also live in hives. Even less well-known is that the vast majority of Australian bees don’t live in hives but are solitary, each female making her own nest.

Sawfly, Pterygophorus insignisA sawfly, Pterygophorus insignis, whose caterpillar-like larvae feed on Paperbark leaves.

Parasitic ichneumon wasp, Netelia sp.A parasitic ichneumon wasp, Netelia sp. These wasps lay eggs inside moth caterpillars. The eggs hatch and the wasp larvae consume the caterpillar from the inside.

Irridescent green cuckoo waspA cuckoo wasp, so called because they lay their eggs inside the nests of other wasps. The cuckoo wasp larva either consumes the larva of the host wasp or its food supply.

Digger wasp, Sphex cognatusA digger wasp, Sphex cognatus. The nest of this wasp is a burrow in the soil with several chambers. A single larva develops in each chamber feeding on katydid grasshoppers collected by the female.

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