Understanding the Relationship: Do Wasps Kill Bees?

Do Wasps Kill Bees?

Bees and wasps are familiar flying insects that sometimes induce fear of stings. While they overlap in habitats, wasps pose a predatory threat that makes bees defensive. So do preying wasps actually kill bees? Understanding the interactions between these species provides insights into reducing risks to hives and avoiding unnecessary conflicts. Here is an overview of the predation dynamics, competition, and peaceful coexistence between wasps and bees.

bees landing on a red beehive

Different Wasps That Interact With Bees

Before examining whether wasps kill bees, it helps to distinguish the main wasp species involved:

Yellowjackets – These social wasps have black and yellow bands. Nests are made of papery envelopes. They scavenge sweets and meat.

Hornets – Large social wasps up to 1.5 inches long. They build gray paper nests in trees and bushes.

European paper wasps – Have yellow and rusty bands, make open comb nests. Not very aggressive.

Potter wasps – Solitary black wasps that nest in holes. They hunt caterpillars to feed their offspring.

Cicada killer wasps – Huge digger wasps that provision ground nests with cicadas.

Knowing the culprit wasp provides clues to their threat potential and targets. Only certain species directly conflict with honey bees.

Do Wasps Kill Bees?

The short answer is some wasps do prey on honey bees, but only in limited contexts.

Yellowjackets, hornets, and European wasps are the main species that hunt honey bee workers. However, they almost exclusively target weaker or dying bees away from the hive. These wasps rely on smell to locate vulnerable bees. Healthy bees emit a blend of pheromones that ward off wasps. But impaired bees give off stress compounds that attract hungry wasps.

Wasps struggle to infiltrate the protective spheres of active hives. The guard bees vigorously defend entrances from intruding wasps. Inside, the bee colony has strength in numbers to deter wasp attacks. Only lone, weak bees isolated from the hive face serious preying risk. Foragers away from home have slightly higher chances of wasp attacks but still minimal compared to sick bees.

In essence, wasps opportunistically kill a minimal number of bees, focusing on easy targets. Overall hive impact is usually negligible. Exceptions can occur if honey bee colonies are very small or already weakened by mites, disease, or pesticides. Open hive feeding also draws wasps to vulnerable locations. But healthy hives easily deter serious wasp threats.

bees making honey in a beehive

Competition for Food

More concerning than direct kills is the food competition between bees and some social wasps. Yellowjackets and hornets, especially later in summer, may rob beehives of honey stores and pollen if hives lack adequate protections. Aggressively guarding entrances is energetically taxing on bees. Shortages provoked by robbing pressure can contribute to winter losses.

However, competition is minimized through proper entrance reducers, robbing screens, and hive maintenance to prevent wasps accessing sweet interior stores. Healthy populations keep each other segregated. Thoughtful apiary management and site selection further reduces food competition between bees and wasps.

Do Wasps Eat Bees?

The wasps most notorious for killing bees are yellowjackets, hornets, and European paper wasps. These social wasps do consume some honey bees, but almost always ones already weakened, dying, or dead. This opportunistic scavenging limits spread of disease. The wasps’ mouthparts cannot easily penetrate the hard shells of healthy bees. And healthy bees have effective defenses against wasp attacks. So direct predation is minimal.

However, wasps do commonly rob honey bee hives later in summer and fall. This stealing of stored honey and pollen stresses bees preparing for winter. And consuming bee brood, rather than adult bees, is detrimental. So proper precautions are needed. But in most cases, wasps are more interested in bee food and larvae than workers. That robbing is driven by hunger, not random violence. With care to avoid contact, wasps do not need to be seen as remorseless killers of bees. Their interactions are more nuanced.

a lot of bees landing on a beehive

Coexistence Between Bees and Wasps

While competitive, bees and wasps also peacefully coexist through:

  • Separate feeding – Bees focus on flowers while wasps take tree sap, meat, and scavenged sweets.
  • Spatial avoidance – Their spheres of activity overlap only minimally.
  • Beneficial predation – Wasps cull sick bees that could spread contagion.
  • Niche timing – Wasps decline before winter when bees most need food reserves.
  • Distinct habitats – Orchard bees and mason wasps occupy different spaces.
  • Deterrent signals – Healthy bees emit compounds making them unappealing prey.

With thoughtful management, apiaries can host both bees and small numbers of wasps without detrimental impact. The two groups remain largely respectful of each other’s space.

Preventing Wasp Problems

To limit wasp threats:

  • Use entrance reducers – Funnel bees to strengthen gate defense.
  • Ensure adequate nearby water – This keeps wasps from loitering at honey stores.
  • Install robbing screens – Mesh keeps wasps out while allowing bee passage.
  • Seal any gaps – Fix holes and cracks that allow sneaky entry.
  • Bait traps with meat – Draw scavenging wasps away with preferred food.
  • Check for unattended honey – Clean up any outdoor drips that could attract wasps.
  • Inspect regularly – Monitor hive and nest activity to identify any conflicts.

With proactive measures, wasps and bees prevent most direct clashes in their parallel worlds.

Wasps threatening bees conjures an image of relentless slaughter. But a closer look reveals more complex dynamics between these sometimes competitors. Careful apiary practices allow apprehending wasps appropriately rather than villainizing them as terrorists of bees. Their intricate relations illuminate broader lessons of responsible stewardship in a biodiverse habitat. Let the bees be at peace, and the wasps too shall follow.

bees in a glass beehive

Additional Details on Bee and Wasp Relations:

  • Bees recognize wasp predators not by sight but by scent. Guard bees sniff out characteristic wasp odors.
  • Only honey bee workers face wasp attacks. Drones and queens emit pheromones that repel wasps.
  • Bees will ball and cook wasps to death with their vibrating bodies if they do enter a hive.
  • Wasps frequently establish nests under the eaves of houses and sheds. Avoid placing hives directly adjacent.
  • Potter wasps and cicada killers focus on other insect prey and ignore bees. They are docile.
  • Small hive beetles can also attract wasp scavenging. Effective beetle control limits this.
  • Hornets and wasps have greater cold tolerance than bees. They remain active in fall to potentially rob hives.
  • Bird feeding places attract wasps. Locate hives away from heavy bird activity for best separation.
  • Direct wasp control like traps or nest removal is only needed if robbing cannot be prevented through exclusion methods.
  • Entrance reducers should allow 1 bee space minimum to avoid congestion that hinders defense.

With vigilance and responsible maintenance, bees and wasps integrate with minimal harmful clashes overall. Their complex food web relations offer lessons in respecting all species for a healthy habitat.