The more we intrude on nature, the angrier we get with it for bothering us. Nature is an unwanted house guest, a flaw in our perfect gardens, an uprooter of our concrete deserts. We are so busy complaining about how nature disrupts our sterile order that we miss most of the beauty that is under our noses. Perhaps this is why most people today recognize wasps as only the social wasps—those picnic-botherers, loft loiterers, “murder hornets”—for it is these particular wasps that we notice when they cross our paths.
It’s an awful shame that we don’t take more care to notice the 32,000 other species of hunting wasps—the solitary ones—which comprise 97 per cent of all the world’s stinging wasp species. You might have seen these lonesome insects in the summer, digging into sand banks or excavating crevices in stone walls or patios. You probably mistook them for bees.
Our blinkered and vexed view of what wasps are appears to be recent. The writings of early naturalists are littered with impassioned accounts of the ways of solitary wasps. They were a favorite of the gentleman and gentlewoman naturalist in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Their out-of-print books hide gems that show we were not always quite so ignorant and blinkered in our view of wasps. These naturalists started to uncover the endless forms of solitary wasps almost 200 years ago. Their careful obsessions have provided the natural history needed to guide modern scientists, as few have the patience these days to spend time with a solitary wasp.