"I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars."
-Charles Goddamn Darwin
A huge wasp flying into an office full of people has about the same effect as a crazed gunman. "Aaaahhh! Wasp! Here he comes! Ruuuunnn!! Find out what he wants, and give it to him! "
"You want my daughter? You can have my fucking daughter!"
When wasps aren't pumping us full of excruciating venom, they're condemning other insects to some of the slowest, most grotesque deaths in the natural world. A parasite that devours its host from the inside out is known scientifically as a parasitoid, and the vast majority of parasitoids in nature just happen to be wasps. They are even believed to have assimilated a fucking virus to make their sting even nastier.
Cockroaches, caterpillars and even spiders fall victim to their insidiousness, becoming the walking dead; chemically enslaved incubators to ravenous wasp larvae.
Parasitic wasp cocoons attached to a caterpillar. Go ahead, try and count them. From Alex Popovkin on Flickr.
The thing is, this sort of devilry is precisely why the world would be worse off without these little sadists. Predatory arthropods such as spiders, dragonflies and ladybugs all have a hand in maintaining nature's delicate balance, but none are so geared towards grand-scale pest control as parasitoid wasps, who have not only evolved to track down and slaughter specific plant-destroying insects, but the rest of the natural world has evolved to help them.
For example, let's take a look at ordinary, everyday corn. When stalks of this staple crop find themselves infested by caterpillars of the species Spodoptera exigua, the plants release a chemical concoction that attracts the species of wasp designed to fuck up that particular caterpillar. If it's dealing with some other type of caterpillar, like Mythimna separata, corn sends out a modified signal designed just for a different wasp that will kill it.
Yes, fucking corn has evolved a means of saying "please inject brain-eating embryos into the worms that devour my precious tissues. No, not you, these are the other worms. Yeah, send those guys. Thx."
Scientists aren't sure just how many different wasps one plant can keep in its chemical rolodex, but many are believed to have a unique emergency broadcast for every local pest that may munch on its foliage.
And it's not just the vegetable kingdom that benefits; some wasps hang around large mammals to pick off biting horseflies and even the dreaded bot-flies.
Just as your immune system continually adapts to new strains of the common cold, wasps function as an ecosystem's own "antibodies" against all manner of infectious, invasive vermin. It really is one of the fundamental laws of all living things: You must tolerate douchebags if they're keeping out the bigger douchebags.