Honey bee and wasp – battle to the death

May 28, 2011

in Gardening For Wildlife, Insects

Honey bee lands on sedum to collect nectar

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The honey bee is busy collecting nectar to return to her hive which would be used to make honey and feed the young honey bee grubs. Honey bees are vegetarian and are not predators. She is totally engrossed in her work, oblivious to her surroundings as her mouth parts probes deep within the flower, lapping up nectar. Unbeknown to her she is being watched from above.

Many years ago, I was in the cubs and we were camping. I remember making myself a jam butty (!) on a wooden table outside. I dropped some jam onto the table. A blue bottle came down to feed on the  jam. A wasp flew overhead and landed on the table. I immediately thought that it was going to feed on the jam. It did n’t. It jumped onto the back of the bluebottle and started to chew it and bite it. Within seconds I watched, absolutely amazed as the wasps chewed the wings off the bluebottle, bit off its head, separated the abdomen from the thorax, grabbed the abdomen with its jaws and as it flew off, craddled the body between its legs. A short while later, I assume it was the same wasp, returned and carried off the thorax in a similar fashion. Its nest must have been nearby.

Honey bee opens jaws to repel wasp attack-too late the wasp has already stung her

In a flash, a predatory social common wasp ( Vespula vulgaris) seizes its opportunity and ambushed the hapless honeybee from the dropping from the sky, lands on the back of the honey bee, stings her, bites her mouth parts, causing them to bleed and brief battle ensues as they embrace each other in a deadly fight. Too late for the honeybee though, She has already been stung. The experienced predatory wasps bites her several times, careful to avoid her sting. She starts to bleed. Soon it will be all over. The wasp waits nearby.

A predatory wasp – waiting over its honey bee prey

The social wasps are predatory hunters. They kill all kinds of insect life and numerous insect pests. In fact they really are mobile pest controllers. More pests killed less pesticides use – better for the environment! I have watched them kill houseflies, caterpillars, horseflies, crane flies, greenflies, green and bluebottles. Now the honey bee has been added to my list of observed prey. I have also watched them scavenge on dead mammals and even discarded beef burgers, for the flesh needed to their grubs. Their prey is masticated (chewed up) and the flesh is fed to their developing brood of grubs, back at their nest. I had always thought, like most people, that wasps ate sugary and sweet foods. I had seen them drinking fizzy drinks, drinking honeydew, chewing at old apple cores, even share my beer inside beer glasses! Yes they can cause trouble at your picnic or barbecue, their sting is defensive or for prey. But have you noticed that they only become a nuisance in late summer? That’s because they are busy hunting for prey to feed their young. I have watched them diligently search individual plants and flowers in search of prey. I have watched them gnaw and strip off fragments of wood fibre from wooden posts, fencing and the outer parts of dead plant stalks, such as teasel. This is chewed up, mixed with saliva making a pulp, from which they makes their nests. A distinct noise is made when they chew/scrape off the nesting material, recognisable when you hear it and listen to the sound. Its similar to clicking and scrapping the very tips of your finger nails together.

Wasp sits and waits for honey bee to die after attacking it – it will be fed to the young wasp grubs back at the nest

So what do adult wasps eat? They do not have the mouth parts that would enable them to feed upon insects themselves. Great for chewing wood fibres and other insects, but not for feeding themselves. Instead they are able to drink, nectar, honeydew and more importantly, they feed upon a sweet secretion made by the wasp grubs, a sweet liquid which nourishes the adult wasps.  When there are grubs to feed, the wasps are busy hunting for them and in return are fed by the grubs. As the summer ends, there are less eggs being laid by the queen wasps. Less eggs, less grubs, less sweet food for the adults! The nest is slowly dying off. So in a nutshell they have to go out and fend for themselves. Hence you are only troubled by them as summer wanes and they search diligently, not for prey for the young grubs, but for sugary food for themselves.  They are not interested in you at all. Your food, perhaps, depending on the time of the year. Flies are partial to dog faeces  one minute, your ham sandwich the next!! Food outside should be covered.  Wasps are not aggressive to humans, but our actions can make them aggressive. They will defend themselves from attack. They are only doing what comes naturally. I mean we are all partial to a beer or wine at a barbecue are n’t we!


Refs—–my own experiences and observations plus……



Other useful information….

For information about insect stings…  www.insectstings.co.uk

wasp stings….    http://www.waspwatch.co.uk/aboutus.shtml

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