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Beekeeper’s Notes: Wasps On The Rampage Again

Published on: 1 Sep, 2020
Updated on: 1 Sep, 2020

Hugh Coakley keeps bees in Worplesdon

The wasps are at it again. Desperate for food in the last knockings of their short existence, they are investigating anything sweet and sticky to keep them going (see Beekeeper’s Notes September ’17: Marauding wasps, honey and a lot going on).

A wasp on a honey-robbing mission being repulsed by a honeybee guard blocking the hive entrance. Click on the image to enlarge it in a new window.

Jam jars, beer bottles and fizzy drinks bring them droning around our heads and we all recognise the signs; head jerking away from the buzz, frantic flapping of hands and a low, crouching run to escape.

But it isn’t just us humans who are affected. It can be a life and death struggle for the poor old honey bee. They have the honey, the sweet carbohydrate the wasps crave and they are willing to fight to get it.

I have heard at least one report this year in Guildford of a strong honeybee hive completely cleared out by the robber wasps in a day. Usually, it is the smaller and weaker colonies that get attacked being less able to defend themselves but not always.

A wasp versus a honeybee in mortal combat. My money would be on the wasp.

It is fascinating to see the tactics used by both sides.

The wasps weave from side to side outside the bees’ entrance, looking for a chance to dart inside. The bees post guards to inspect all incomers and they challenge and tussle with anything that they don’t recognise.

Some wasps are repelled at the gate but, mysteriously, others are allowed to pass. I have been told that if a wasp can get in once, it picks up the hive’s scent on its body and then gets a free pass with unlimited entry. Plausible? I’m not sure.

Once they’re in though, they are ok. The bees don’t seem to recognise them as a threat once they are in and the wasp can go about the hive untroubled by the rightful owners.

The trick is to narrow the entrance to the hive down to one bee width. It makes it easier for the hive to protect itself, even the weakest of hives can afford to have one guard on duty.

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