Sunday, 7 September 2014

Stirring Up a Hornet's Nest!

No pictures for this one. Read on and you'll understand why.

Remember the wasps nests from last week? Well, the saga goes on. Not a single wasp had emerged from the first nest after Sue squirted nasty white powder into the entrance hole.
So yesterday morning I deemed it safe to dig a big hole about a foot away in which to plant the oak 'sapling' which I had rescued from someone's garden. (It was actually about 8 foot tall when I got there. I dug out as much tap root as I could, but I don't rate its chances of survival. Trees are best moved when very small and in winter.)
So, there I am digging away when my foot gently breaks through the ground with an unfamiliar crunching sound. I had broken through into the underground paper caverns of the wasps nest. Not really a problem, except that dozens of wasps were sleepily crawling around and beginning to emerge!
I didn't really take the time to look at them closely when I first saw them, but I could now see that these 'wasps' were massive, about an inch long. They weren't wasps, they were hornets!!!
I had just plunged my foot into a hornets nest!

I guess that at this time of year many of them must stay in the nest and tend the queen and the brood. Anyway, I felt a bit guilty about this, but I liberally dusted the new hole I had made with white powder. I stayed to watch as more and more of these remarkable creatures emerged from underground. I then broke up the nest with my garden fork. If you've never seen a wasp or hornet nest, they are amazing - a huge paper teardrop and inside a multi-storey conurbation, layers of perfect hexagonal comb. This nest must have gone down about two foot. It was amazing. Even to excavate that much soil must have been quite a feat, let alone to fill up the underground space with such a wonderful structure.

But I had come along and destroyed the whole thing then waged chemical warfare on the entire population! The more I watched them, the more guilty I felt. So, to justify my use of weapons of mass destruction, I took to Wikipedia to find out a little more about hornets. I found out that in late summer there will be up to 700 hornets in a nest, but that only the fertilised queens survive the winter to start new colonies.

I also read the following, which I have copied here:

Hornets have stings used to kill prey and defend hives. Hornet stings are more painful to humans than typical wasp stings because hornet venom contains a large amount (pkp,5%) of acetylcholine.

Hornets, like many social wasps, can mobilize the entire nest to sting in defence, which is highly dangerous to animals, including humans. The attack pheromone is released in case of threat to the nest.

In light of that, I would advise that you never use a garden fork to destroy a hornets nest, and if you do attempt such an act, at least make sure you are wearing full protective clothing!!!

The queen hornet, back in the spring must have thought she had died and gone to heaven when she came upon this location to found her city, conveniently close not only to an orchard, but to a small group of bee hives too.
More information from Wikipedia:

Prey

Adult hornets and their relatives (e.g., yellowjackets) feed themselves on nectar and sugar-rich plant foods. Thus, they can often be seen on the sap of oak trees, rotting sweet fruits, honey and any sugar-containing foodstuffs. Hornets frequently fly into orchards to feast on over-ripe fruit. Hornets tend to gnaw a hole into fruit to be totally immersed in its meat. A person who accidentally plucks a fruit with a feeding hornet can be attacked by the disturbed insect.
The adults prey on various insects as well, which they kill with stings and jaws. Due to their size and the power of venom, hornets are able to kill large insects such as honey bees, grasshoppers, locusts and mantises without difficulty or much effort. The victim is fully masticated and then fed down in the form of slurry to the larvae developing in the nest, rather than consumed by the adult hornets. Given that some of their prey are considered pests, hornets may be considered beneficial under some circumstances.

On balance, I think that hornets and their nests are amazing creations, but sadly there is not room for them here on my smallholding. Too many conflicts of interest.

Now all I have to do is find the source of the wasps which are still raiding the middle hive. I have tried following their flight path, but it comes to an end at the top of a willow tree. I'm pretty sure their nest is not in this, so they must be using it as a stopping off point before heading home.
If I do find the nest, I'll make sure I put a bee suit on before I tackle it!

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