Wasps And Hornets

Wasp queen.Wasp queen.

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!).

European hornet - Vespa orientalisEuropean hornet - Vespa crabro

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.  

Beautiful wasp with clearly visible hairs.Beautiful wasp with clearly visible hairs.

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!

Wasp grooming itself.Wasp grooming itself.

So how do bees deal with wasps and hornets?

New research suggests honeybees send warning signals to predators to hornets 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 abodomens 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 velutinaAsian hornet - Vespa velutina

So 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!  Read more.

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 orientalisEuropean 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.

But whilst beekeepers may use wasp traps in order to protect their bee hives from wasps and hornets, what can humans do.

Forms of protection and prevention for humans includes the Waspinator.  A Waspinator is a device that can deter wasps and hornets, by mimicking a wasp or hornet nest. Some beekeepers have had good success with several, placed nearby the hives. 

You could also try other deet-free repellents.

Please note: as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases for links to Amazon products.

Read:  The amazing structure of a social wasp nest.

You might like these


Frequently Asked Questions

Read Wasp FAQs

Wasp FAQs

More links:

Wasp Life cycle
Learn about the fascinating lives of social and solitary wasps.

Wasp Pollination
Wasps are important pollinators - in some cases, they are the exclusive pollinators of some plants. Learn more here.

Wasp Nests
What should you do if you find a wasps' nest?

Prevent Wasp Stings
How to prevent and treat wasp stings.

Go back from Wasps And Hornets to Home page