Wasps And Hornets

Wasps and hornets belong to the insect family Vespidae and like bees, they are of the insect order Hymenoptera.

In fact, it is believed that bees originally evolved from wasps, and indeed, bees and wasps are related.

Wasps (specifically the Common and German wasp) as well as hornets, are predators of bees, and for this reason, they are generally disliked by beekeepers. 

During spring and summer is it not unusual for wasps to take honey bees for feeding to their carnivorous larvae - however, it should be said that wasps will happily take dead bees

Honey bee workers die quite naturally, and these bees will be ejected by the colony as it tidies the nest or hive in order to maintain hygiene.  

Wasp queen.Wasp queen.

However, it has to be said that wasps will also, on occasion, take live bees whilst bees are out foraging and wasps are hunting.  They are also attracted to honey and nectar stores.

If we are talking of a relatively small number, and a colony of thousands of honey bees, then certainly honey bees can repel and recover from a small scale wasp attack. 

If a large number of wasps were to attack, that would be a different matter.  Beekeepers may use methods such as wasp traps to prevent a disaster at the hands of wasps occurring at the hive.

However, it should be said that generally, wasps and hornets are natural predators, and to some extent, honey bees have developed ways to ward them off.  Honey bees may not always win the battle, however!

European hornet - Vespa orientalisEuropean hornet - Vespa crabro

So how do bees deal with wasps and hornets?

New research suggests honey bees send warning signals to hornets to indicate that they have been seen!

The study: “An ‘I see you’ prey–predator signal between the Asian honeybee, Apis cerana, and the hornet, Vespa velutina “– by Ken Tan, Zhenwei Wang, Hua Li, Shuang Yang, Zongwen Hu, Gerald Kastberger, Benjamin P. Oldroyd - published February 2012 in Animal Behaviour.

The signal involves the guard bees simultaneously vibrating their abdomens to create a ‘shaking signal’.

In effect, what is produced is a ‘Mexican Wave’ of shaking honey bees, which warns the hornet to back off. If, however, the hornet should land too close to the entrance of the honey bee hive or nest, about 500 guard bees will pounce on the hornet, and kill it.

Asian hornet - Vespa velutina on flower headAsian hornet - Vespa velutina

How do hornets respond to this signal?
They retreat!  However, it’s not all great for bees, since the hornets then target single bees in flight!  See the  scientific study.

The two lovely photographs of a hornet on this page were sent by Valerie Ferman, and were taken in France in Autumn 2011.

European hornet - Vespa orientalis foraging on ivy flowersEuropean hornet - Vespa crabro

And what about wasps? 
It’s down to numbers. As stated earlier, a single wasp will be dealt with by a colony of honey bees very easily, however, if the wasps outnumber the honey bees, the wasps will attack and kill them.

Brilliant Bees puzzle Book cover

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