Wasps and Hornets

Wasp stings

Wasps tend to get a bad reputation when it comes to stinging. They are almost unnoticed during the early summer as they are building their nest and feeding the grubs, but late in the summer when their life cycle is nearly complete they are buzzing around looking for a source of sugar, we might be unlucky and get one trapped and get stung and if their nest is disturbed then they will naturally try and defend it, so leave it alone. If you do get stung then this will help to ease the pain.

I. Cool the area of the sting with cold water or an ice pack.
2. Apply sting cream, this is available from all good chemists, Honey and propolis Healing Balm from The Honey Pot also works very well.
3. Put a plaster on, do not scratch because this leads to swelling.
4. If these steps are taken, swelling should normally go down within 24-36 hours.

Anaphylactic shock

This is an extremely rare reaction to bee or wasp stings, this can be life threatening due to hypersensitivity. If in any doubt, always seek medical advise. For more information click on About Bees/ Bee Sting

Wasp nests

This is a photo of a large wasp nest measuring 61cm x 76cm (2 feet x 2 feet – 6 inches), it is perfectly formed from chewed wood, (papier mache). This photo of the nest was sent to our web site, next to it is a smaller wasp nest found in his loft.
We can have one living in our roofs and might be totally unaware of it being there, indeed contrary to some peoples beliefs they are unlikely to cause any problem at all if left alone and in a place such as a loft away from children and pets.

This second picture was sent to our web site thanks to Nicholas Lambe, a Home Inspector of Hitchen in Hertfordshire here in England, it blends in well with the loft insulation.

These wasp nests are small compared to a wasp nest found on a farm at New Zealand in 1963, it was 366cm x 175cm (12 feet x 5 feet 9inches)

The over wintered queen wasp will start to build her nest on her own in the early spring, it is about the size of a golf ball, the Queen wasp will create a small cluster of hexagonally shaped cells hanging vertically downwards and lay her eggs in the cells.

This picture was sent to us by beekeeper Peter Edwards from Stratford-upon-Avon of the common wasp (Vespa vulgaris L.)

It clearly shows the start of the nest and her eggs can be seen in the three cells in the centre, this queen wasp chose the underneath of one of Peters hive roofs to make her nest, a nice and sheltered place, but not many beekeepers appreciate having wasps in their apiary because of the risk of robbing their honey later in the summer.

When her daughters start to hatch out they take over the nest building, they keep it clean, regulate the temperature and humidity and feed their queen and larvae. The queen remains in the nest to lay her eggs. The nest increases in size as the season progresses
A wasp nest is made of paper and the wasps make it by chewing wood from trees and mixing it with saliva.
These are best left alone, it will not cause any damage to property.
If you have one and it is a problem, then the wasps can be destroyed if you get in touch with your local council or look in Yellow pages under Pest & Vermin control services, there will be a charge.

So how long does it take for the wasps to build their nest ? From early spring until the Autumn when it reaches its maximum size, it is then when the wasps leave their nest and we start noticing them more often. The population can reach about 5,000

By the end of Summer, all wasps leave their nests and do not return, so the nest can then be removed in safety if you think it is necessary.
Wasps do not return to their nest next year because they have all died, except for the new Queen Wasps that build a new nest from scratch, the queens do not use an empty nest.
The old wasp nest is not used again but the hibernating queen wasps might use it as a place of shelter in the winter.

Queen wasps

The first wasps that we spot in the spring are the queen wasps, these are the previous years mated queens that have over wintered, you can see them flying alone searching for a suitable place to build their nest. The queen is larger than the female worker and male drone wasps that emerge later. Only the newly mated Queens of this year survive the winter and find some where dry to hibernate, such as a roof, basement, hollow trees or an old wasp nest

Wasps, friend or foe?

Despite the inconvenience caused by wasps, they are a problem only for a short time each year. They play an essential role in the balance of nature by being an ecological pest control system, they feed their grubs with flies, aphids, mosquitoes and caterpillars which would be an even bigger problem. One wasp can bring into their nest over 200 flies in one hour, with as many as 20,000 wasps being reared from a nest.
Wasps help with pollination when gathering nectar from the plants they visit.
Un like the honey bee, wasps do not produce any honey as their diet is different, but as they are abandoning their nests in the Autumn they are on the look out for any source of sugar to keep them going and are often seen trying to rob out bee hives of honey.
Beekeepers reduce their hive entrances to make it easier for the guard bees to keep these un wanted visitors out.
Later in the summer/autumn the wasps eat over ripe fruit as a source of sugar, mostly from fruit that has fallen on the ground. If this has fermented then this can make the wasps appear to be aggressive.
If there are a lot of wasps about this year, then it is because there are a lot of insects about, if there are less wasps then it is because there are less insects to feed from.

Different types of wasps

The common wasps Vespula vulgaris L. and the German wasp Vespula germanica L. Are the most common in Britain and are similar in looks and life style. There are many other species such as digger wasps, solitary wasps, parasitic wasps and spider wasps.

Hornet

Queen Hornet spotted entering my empty bait hive.

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The start of a hornets nest being built by
last years mated Queen
in early June.

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This year I have an interesting visitor at one of my apiaries, a queen hornet. She has started to build her nest in one of my empty hives. I Have removed all but two of the frames and fitted a glass quilt so that I can observe her progress throughout the year without disturbance.

Hornet enjoying this Summers wind falls.

Hornet on pear

The Hornet, Vespa crabro L. is our largest wasp and is found more in the south of England but it is being spotted more recently further north of England. They build their nests usually in a hollow deciduous tree in a wood.
Some people have an unusual fear for hornets but they are no more likely to attack than any other wasp, unless like the common wasp, their nest is provoked, in which case they will defend it. There sting is no more painful than a common wasp.
The hornet has an orange/brown coloured thorax and the wings are slightly darker than the common wasp.
Here in Britain we only have the one species of Hornet, but in Japan they have several
different species, some causing big problems each year.

The Largest Hornet Nest In The Guinness Book of Records, says that Yoshikuni Shiozawa of Nagano, Japan made a huge Hornets nest measuring 3.766 metres (12.25 feet) high x 4.8 metres (15.6 feet) wide at the base by joining together 160 Hornets nests containing an estimated 160.000 Hornets at his Hornet museum in October 1999, don’t try this at home kids.

The Hornet is known as the gentle giant of the wasp world. If you go to the links page there is a fascinating web site all about Hornets.

Wasps like other insects start as an egg, larva, pupa and emerge as an adult, unlike the honey bee, their nest is built in tiers horizontally with the grubs hanging downwards. The honey bee builds their combs vertically with the cells at 90 degrees.

Killer Wasps?

Vespa velutinaL.

After attending the Beekeeping convention this year (2013) and attending a lecture by Dr Steve Martin, Internationally known for his work on Hornets, here is an update about this most feared of all hornets.

The Asian Hornet has been spreading across France at an alarming rate of about 100km per year and is causing havoc to beekeeping in the South of France. It is thought that hibernating velutina Queens arrived in France and South Korea via garden pots imported from China and it is only a matter of time before it arrives here in Britain. Its normal habitat in Asia is not unlike the areas  in France where it is successfully spreading and there are many areas in Britain suited to it also.

Vespa velutina L. is an aggressive predator capable of capturing bees on the wing on returning to their nests and other beneficial insects. It is  defensive to its nest and several hundred might come out defending/ attacking any one suspect of interfering with their nest. Don’t attempt to interfere with a velutina nest, this has to be done by highly specialist pest control people wearing heavy duty protective clothing.

Don’t confuse it with our European Hornet, ours can be spotted as far north as Yorkshire and causing few problems, indeed it is known as the ‘Gentle giant of the Wasp World’.


Vespa velutina L. hovering in front of a beehive, waiting to capture honey bees

Can we protect our hives from these Hornets? Well not really, unlike other predators this one catches our bees on the wing on returning to their hives, so beekeepers keep your eyes open for these hornets and report asap please.
If you think you have spotted a Vespa velutina nest here in Britain please contact Fera at Sand Hutton (see links page) and give them your details, the contact can be found on my links page.


Areas in dark where the Asian wasp has established its self, it is rapidly spreading across France causing major problems.


Asian Hornet in flight
Note the different patterns to our European Hornet and a much larger colony reaching up to 4,000 per nest compared to a few hundred in our hornets nest


Remains of a removed velutina’s nest

If you think you know of such a nest by the velutina, do not attempt to touch or remove it, it is a specialist task, inform Fera.

Reduce the temptation

We are partly to blame for the wasp problem, we have litter bins full of sweet and ice cream wrappers and sugary drink cans. Then place the litter bins next to the park bench seats where we are sitting. The wasps are attracted to the sugar that we have provided for them.
Wasps might get into your drink while you are not looking, so be careful when picking up your can or bottle and placing it on your lips or you could get a painful sting in your mouth.

Why do wasps become a nuisance?

Wasps become a bit of a problem towards the end of the summer when they are no longer building up their nest and feeding their grubs.
When they are feeding their young with insects, they are rewarded by a sweet substance secreted from the grubs, this keeps them going and provides them with the sugar they need, but when the queen wasp has stopped laying her eggs, they are in need of some sugar to keep on going and we kindly provide it for them in drinks cans and bottles, sweet wrappers and ice creams and provide these “wasp food stations” (litter bins) at places where they are likely to be a nuisance when we are out of doors at our picnics and barbecues at the height of summer. Beekeepers are often troubled by wasps going into their hives as they are robbing the honey from the bees. Wasps love to eat honey but can not produce it them selves.
Wasps do not have the necessary means to gather nectar, bring it back to their nests, transfer from wasp to wasp, store the nectar containing a high water content, reduce the moisture content, cap it over like our honey bees do. Their paper nest would absorb the water and disintegrate. So wasps do not make or store honey, but given the opportunity, they will steal it.

Wasp Traps

These do it your self wasp traps come with a simple instructions leaflet and information about wasps, they are available from The Honey Pot and you can find out how to order them if you go to the products/ mail order page.

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