Hornets Versus Honey Bees

Some insects square up against each other in cage fights-or should we say, hive fights. Hornets versus honey bees sounds like an exciting battle or a sci-fi movie, but trust us: it’s a real thing that happens on the farm. Just recently, I was shooting the hives and meadows, and noticed something interesting going on. When I walked through the apiary, I came upon a large wasp on one of the hives. I immediately got ready to document the battle.

The paper wasp that landed on the hive was probably looking for food, whether that be the bees or their honey. Paper wasps are beneficial pollinators, although they will eat other insects. Larger hornets and wasps will purposefully look for bee hives to kill, which is quite sinister. Japanese hornets are known for this. They attack hives, killing the bees and taking their bodies back to their own nests for food. A small band of Japanese hornets can completely kill a hive in just a few hours. One of these wasps can take out 40 bees per minute because of their sheer size. However, the bees often fight back when they can, and easily outnumber the small bands of wasps. Bees will kill their attackers by either ripping them apart (which is not an endearing quality) or by smothering them.

Hornets Versus Honey Bees: Our Girls Won

hornets versus honey bees where a group of honey bees gang up on one wasp intruder

I didn’t stick around long enough to witness the murder of the wasp by our hives, since the girls started swarming. But, it was very interesting to watch how the attack panned out. The wasp landed on the hive and began walking around. Within 45 seconds, a bee ran up to him and knocked him to the ground. Here, the wasps’s days were numbered. The bees proceeded to jump on top of the hornet, which they probably did to smother the intruder.

hornets versus honey bees where all the bees in the hive are ganging up on the hornet

A group of honey bees will often jump an attacker, and instead of stinging (since their stinger can’t get through another exoskeleton). They simply squash their bully. The suffocation, combined with the incredible heat generated, will kill most would-be attackers. Since insects breathe through holes in their skeleton, the bees basically hold their attacker down and cover their tracheae so that they suffocate. Bees also vibrate while doing this: the friction causes a spike in temperature around their predator, which overheats and kills the attacker. This is quite the fight!

Let’s wrap this up with something cheerful: the flowers on the farm. The fields are beginning to come into bloom, and by midsummer they’ll be gorgeous.

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