Formidably fierce flying machines often targeted Winnie the Pooh’s honey or Paddington Bear’s marmalade sandwiches.

In the real world these buzzy stingers disrupt picnics by homing in on anything sweet.

We have probably all endured an unwelcome brush with wasps at some time.

My own close encounter occurred during a cricket match at Belvedere. Chasing a ball to the boundary, I suddenly stopped and began what teammates later described as a cross between an Irish jig and an impression of a racecourse tic-tac man. At first they were angry with me for allowing the ball to roll for four runs but frowns soon turned to grins as I jumped, hopped, swung my arms and whooped in pain. Unknown to them a wasp had disappeared down the front of my partly unbuttoned shirt and reacted to being trapped between hairy flesh and cotton with a painful sting. Spectators guffawed and clapped as I finally released the intruder. I never fielded with an open shirt again.

Wild Things: A life off the ground

Entomologist Eric R. Eaton insists we should appreciate wasps in a new book packed with revelations about the insect we love to hate. They control insect pests, act as pollinators and their venom is used in medicine. Eaton covers wasp evolution, ecology, physiology, diversity, and behaviour, and highlights the positive relationships wasps share with humans and the environment.

He also examines their enemies and imitators. Their presence in fossils indicate wasps have been around since the late Permian period 260-270 million years ago and their bodies have been found frozen in amber from up to 359 million years ago.

Wasps have survived tons of pesticide indiscriminately sprayed on our countryside and Eaton maintains they are essential to our eco-systems. If you haven’t given much thought to wasps, Eaton’s richly-illustrated book will inform and entertain about an insect that sharply divides opinion.

Wild Things: A sharp drop in insect populations

Try throwing away your sprays and instead eliminate garden aphids by encouraging insect-eating wasps with bug hotels.

Just don’t wear an open shirt while gardening – or playing cricket !

Wasps, the Astonishing Diversity of a Misunderstood Insect by Eric R Eaton is published by Princeton University Press Price £25.