Wednesday, 8 June 2011

God made these too

This is a wasps' nest which has established itself in an empty beehive. It's made of paper constructed from fibres chewed from weathered or decaying wood; I believe the patterns in the surface can be used to identify the species. There are several very similar species, and I'd need to take my book down to the allotment to be certain which this is.

Wasp and bee colonies contain thousands of juicy grubs, and as a result, they tend to be extremely good at self-defence. Their weapons are only used in that way, though, at least against us. I can lift the cover off the hive and watch them without the slightest reaction.

Social wasps are major predators; thousands of insects, many of them pests, are brought back daily to feed the grubs, which produce sugary syrup to feed the adults. It's only at the end of the season, when the queen stops laying and there are no more grubs, that they come looking for anything sweet, and come into regular contact with humans. As far as I'm concerned, they more than earn their keep, and they're no problem at all. I've shared my shed with wasps several times, and never been stung yet.

The beehive next to it has been building up steadily, and is now beginning to store a little surplus honey. Most of it will come in during the next month, as the brambles flower. At this time of year, the queen's going full blast, laying somewhere from 1200 to 1500 eggs, more than her body weight, in a day.

A few feet away is another hive with a swarm which moved in a month ago. I get them every year, and use them to restock empty hives. They can be an impressive sight; the queen can't survive alone, and she flies off, driven out of the hive, accompanied by about half the workers in the colony. This is a small one I found hanging in my hedge one afternoon:

The older bees go with the queen, while the younger, which don't fly much, stay behind to maintain the colony, look after the brood, and attend to the new queen which will have been started before the hinve swarmed. In the air, a swarm can be a tight knot of bees ten feet across, or it can be fifty yards across, turn the air black with bees, and sound like a jet aircraft.

A queen is nothing but a sexually mature, overfed worker, and all being well, she soon mates. They'll have raised several queen cells, and many colonies keep more than one for a while, as an insurance against mating failure in our dodgy weather. In the wild, about 75% of swarms will probably fail to store enough honey to see them through their first winter, so I feed them like mad during their first autumn.

These are all part of God's creation, and we've got no need to regard them with the fear which is so common!


  1. If I'd known about you last year you could have come and taken our bees' nest away. AS it was I called the local beekeepers' association and they sent someone around. He was very pleased to have the nest.

  2. If you're anywhere round Birmingham, I'd have been glad of it, but never mind. There's never a year goes by without at least one swarm moving in. I split them at the end of the summer, raise new queens, and then it becomes a question of how many survive the winter.