WASPS are undoubtedly among the best-known (if not the most popular) creatures of the English countryside. We might mix up our moths and butterflies, our frogs and toads and our snakes and slow worms, but everyone instantly recognises the yellow and black striped jersey of the common wasp. Or do they?

There are in fact six species of very similar looking social wasps living in Ryedale, with our common wasp being just one.

The others are named Norwegian, German, tree, red and cuckoo. They are called social wasps because, like ants and honeybees, they live colonially in those fantastic paper nests, with one Queen presiding over everything.

What most people aren’t aware of though is that there are an astonishing 9,000 other different species of wasp living in the UK and most of them, being very small and black, look nothing like our familiar summer picnic stingers.

Almost all of these other wasps are solitary; that is they have no queen or colony but each female lives independently and, after she has mated, finds somewhere appropriate to lay her eggs then leaves her offspring to hatch and fend for themselves.

This may not seem very maternal to us, but her choice of egg-laying site is always very specifically designed to benefit her young as much as possible.

On a recent woodland walk earlier this month I found lots of evidence of clever egg-laying behaviour by a family of creatures called gall wasps.

They take their name from the growths, or galls, that they cause in certain plant tissues. The tiny female Diploepsis rosea, for instance (she doesn’t have an English name) lays her eggs in the stem of a wild rose.

Their presence triggers a violent allergic reaction and the rose develops a large spongy lump covered in red tendrils poetically known as a robin’s pincushion.

This is all deliberate on the gall wasp’s part, of course, because after hatching, which will happen later this month, the grubs will spend the winter feeding on the gall before taking flight next spring as adults.

Not far from the parasitised rosebush that I had chanced upon, recent gales had brought down a huge oak bough complete with leaves and acorns.

On this woody casualty no fewer than three types of gall wasp had been busy. Some of the acorns had spiky growths on their sides caused by knopper gall wasps, while some perfectly spherical oak marble galls had developed on thin twiglets.

The undersides of the leaves themselves had, for me, the strangest looking of the lot; the oak spangle gall wasp had caused the tree to produce hundreds of tiny fried-egg-shaped warts, each containing a baby wasp in the making.

My three types of oak gall are actually only the tip of the iceberg because nearly 30 other species of wasp lay their eggs on oak trees alone, causing growths, warts and deformities of one sort or another.

Fortunately they don’t seem to harm the tree unduly, but that’s certainly not true for the victims of another group of parasitic solitary wasps.

If you think about it, animal bodies are an even better source of protein for young growing wasps than plant tissues are, and whenever there is an opportunity in nature it will be taken.

Consequently, many wasps inject their eggs, not into a plant, but into the living body of another animal.

The host, which in the UK is often a caterpillar, usually remains alive and active even after the eggs have hatched and most of its body space is filled with wasp larvae.

Some sophisticated wasps even go as far as controlling their host’s behaviour chemically. One extreme example is a Costa Rican wasp whose larva “possesses” a spider and induces it to make a camouflaged cocoon web for the wasp’s use, after which it kills and eats the spider. There’s gratitude for you.

So, next time you have a moan about our irritating summer wasps, just remind yourself how much worse it could be if it wasn’t just venom that they injected under our skin, but eggs – a scary thought.