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Ants Sawflies Bees and Wasps: Hymenoptera

Hymenopterans And People

Hymenopterans have long been a part of human culture. In ancient Egypt bees and wasps symbolized various gods. The ancient Greeks called the bee Melitta the Goddess Honey Mother. One of the largest ants in the world, Dinoponera, was used as a symbol of strength for several tribes in the Amazon. The Mixe people of Oaxaca, Mexico, believed that they would become more powerful if they ate ants and considered them symbols of courage, patience, and strength.

In modern times the Russian composer Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov (1804–1908) was inspired by the buzzing of flying bees and composed the famous "Flight of the Bumblebee." This music was written for strings and is performed as part of the opera, The Tale of Tsar Saltan, the story of a prince who is turned into a bee. Several Pokemon cartoons include characters inspired by hymenopterans.

Hymenopterans are also considered to be beneficial to humans. Many species of parasitoids and predators are used to control insect pests in gardens, agricultural fields, and managed forests. Bees are important pollinators. Honeybees also produce honey, which is used in the making of all kinds of foods. Beeswax is used for making candles, cosmetics, lip balm, polishes, and sealing wax.

In some parts of the world hymenopterans are considered an important part of the human diet. Boiling them breaks down their venom and softens their stings. Many species of ants and ant larvae are not only eaten but are considered to be a real treat. Aborigines, native people of Australia living in the desert, dig up honey pot ants as a source of sugar. Some of the workers of these ants spend their lives in underground chambers as living honey pots. When food is abundant, special workers are continually fed honeydew and nectar by other ants until their abdomens swell to the size of a small marble. They store the sweet stuff during times of plenty and feed it to their nest mates when food is scarce. Honey pot ants also live in the western United States and Mexico.


Termites are sometimes called "white ants," but they are not ants at all, nor are they closely related to them. Most ants are dark and hard-bodied, while termites are soft and pale. Ants have a narrow waist, while termites are thick-waisted. Ants have antennae distinctly bent like an elbow, while those of termites are short and beadlike. Moreover, worker ants are always females, while worker termites are both males and females.

Hornets, paper wasps, and yellow jackets are often considered a nuisance when they build their paper nests on or near homes and office buildings. Nest-building Hymenoptera can be domestic nuisances. They inflict painful stings to protect their nests. Some people are highly allergic to stings and may die if stung. Southern imported fire ants have burning stings and are considered a nuisance if their colonies are established close to homes and parks. Their nest mounds sometimes make it difficult to use harvesting equipment in some agricultural fields. They also attack and kill nestlings and other small animals and can have a devastating effect on the local populations of all kinds of animals, including other insects.

Only a few species of Hymenoptera are considered pests that harm forests and crops. Sawfly larvae cause damage to forests, orchards, and ornamental trees. Wood-boring larvae, in association with funguses, can cause extensive damage to plantations of fir trees. A few ant species are also considered pests. For example, the leaf-cutter ants strip crops and garden plants of their leaves and flowers. Other species protect other crop pests, such as sap-sucking insects, from predators and parasitoids.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceInsects and SpidersAnts Sawflies Bees and Wasps: Hymenoptera - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Hymenopterans And People, Conservation Status, Honeybee (apis Mellifera): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT