Wasps And Bees Advice
True wasps, which include the domestic species, belong to the family Vespidae and can be recognised by their habit of folding the wings lengthwise when at rest. This family includes both social on solitary species, and among the latter is the famous Potter wasp, Eumenes coarctata. This little insect lives on heathland and the female builds a number of small ‘flasks’ from sand grains, cemented together with saliva. She stocks, each one with small caterpillars and lays an egg in each. The caterpillars are paralysed, but not dead, and they provide a regular supply of fresh food for the developing wasp larva until it pupates some months later. Similar insects called Mason wasps, build little nests in all the walls and cliff faces.
In the UK we have seven species of social wasp, of which the commonest are the common wasp, Vespa vulgaris, and the German wasp, Vespa germanica. These aren't the ones that annoyed as in late summer when the buzz around our fruit and jam. The wasp's life story is very much like that of the bumblebee with only the mated queen surviving the winter. Nesting and feeding habits are very different from those of the bumblebee, however.
The queen wasp comes out of hibernation in the spring and soon begins to look for a nesting site. The two common species usually nest under the ground, but literary wasp, hangs its nest in a tree or bush. Wasp’s nests are made from paper which the wasps manufacture themselves. They select a suitable tree stump or fence post and begin to scrape the wood off with their strong jaws. The sound of scraping is quite audible and, once you have located a scraping wasp, you will be able to watch it at leisure, because it will return time and time again to the same spot.
When the wood has been removed, it is pulped up with the wasp’s saliva and converted into a rough sort of paper, which is in used to build the nest. The queen starts off the nest by building a little hanging dome, and then constructs, six sided cells on its under surface. She fixes an egg in each cell and feeds the larvae on chewed up caterpillars and other insects. Within a few weeks these larvae turn into work wasps and they begin to build up the nest. This process takes on a similar story as that of the bumble bee. The wasp colony gradually breaks up and the wasps die as autumn comes in, leaving only the mated queen to survive until this following spring.
To the layman, there are probably only two types of bees - bumble bees and honey bees - but there are actually some 250 different types of bees in the British Isles including 25 species of bumble bees. Most of them lead solitary lives, without any sign of colony formation, but they all provide their offspring with food in the form of pollen and nectar obtained from flowers. This is one of the main differences between bees and wasps, because all wasps feed their young on is animal material.
Most of our solitary bees are spring insects and play an important role in pollinating the spring flowers. Typical examples of these bees are the members of the genus Andrena, rather flattened, but not unlike small honeybees. They are often called ‘mining bees’, because each female digs a small borrow in which she lays her eggs. The boroughs are usually in sandy soil and are often so close together, that one might be forgiven for thinking they are social insects. This is not so, however, each burrow is quite separate. The female bee makes about six chambers in each burrow, and, having provisioned them with a mixture of pollen and nectar, she lays an egg in each. She then closes the burrow and pays no more attention to it. Some species develop quickly and produce a summer brood, but others take a whole year to mature and adults are found only in the spring.
Many of the mining bees nests are invaded by little wasp like bees of the genus Nomada, they have no pollen collecting equipment of their own and they provide a lather it with food by laying their eggs in the nests of other bees. They are often called cuckoo bees.
Bumble bees are large, hairy bees with long tongues. They are all social insects, with elaborate colony formation and cooperation between individuals. The colony is usually underground, often in old mouse-hole, and it is an annual affair with only mated females or queens living through the winter. The queens emerge from their hibernation in the spring, and look around for a suitable nesting site. Having found a site, a queen will make a rough nest with grass and then deposit lump of ‘bee bread’ in it. This is a mixture of pollen and honey and then lays about a dozen eggs on it, she surrounds them with a wax and sits on them until they hatch.
The grubs feed on the bee bread, which the queen replenishes as necessary, and become adult after two or three weeks. These new adults are all sterile females, and they are called workers. Workers are found only in social insects and their job is to build up a nest and feed their younger sisters, and later their younger brothers, the drones. This cooperation between individuals is the basis of all social life. When once the first brood of workers has emerged, the queen bumblebee gradually retires from food gathering and remains inside the nest. She spends much of her time laying eggs, but she does do some of the domestic chores, such as feeding the young grubs. Workers continue to be produced for much of the summer but then males and fully developed females appear. After meeting these new females or queens seek winter quarters, but with the first frosts, the rest of the colony perishes.
Like the mining bees, the bumblebees have their ‘cuckoos’. These are the large bees of the genus Psithyrus , and they closely resemble the bumblebees themselves, except that they have no pollen collecting equipment. Female Psithyrus bees, enter the nests of bumblebees in late spring and, if they survive an initial attack by the workers, they settle down to lay their eggs. Psithyrus has no worker caste, and it relies entirely on the bumble bee workers to bring up its young. When once the cuckoo bee is established, the nest will produce no more bumble bees, for Psithyrus either kills the bumblebee queen or eats all her eggs.
The Honey bee, Apis mellifera is not a native and, apart from the occasional swarm which escapes the beekeeper and builds its combs in a hollow tree, the insect does not live wild in this country.