Wasps, Hornets and Bees

Paper Wasps:
paper_wasps.jpgDescription: 13-25 mm in length; body mostly reddish brown to black with yellow rings and reddish areas on abdomen; wings reddish or amber brown.

Habitat: Fields, meadows, gardens and near buildings. Nests are free hanging and consist of a single layer of cells constructed out of wood and saliva with openings at the bottom.
Life Cycle: In spring several females construct a nest together. One of the females becomes the dominant queen and starts laying eggs. The first generation consists of females only which were cared for as larvae by unmated females. In late summer males emerge from unfertilized eggs and mate. Only mated young females overwinter under leaf litter and in stone walls. 

Cicada Killer
: This large wasp has a rusty red head and thorax, russet colored wings, and a black and yellow striped abdomen. A length of 11/2 inches is not uncommon. The larvae are legless, white grubs and are found in burrows in the soil.

Host: Cicada killers do not feed on plants. The larvae feed primarily on paralyzed cicadas. The adult wasps feed on flower nectar.

Life Cycle: The cicada killer wasp overwinters as a larva within a cocoon in a burrow in the soil. Pupation occurs in the spring. Adults begin emerging in June and emergence continues throughout the summer. The adult female feeds, mates, and digs burrows for several weeks before preying on cicadas. A vertical or slightly angled burrow 6 to 10 inches deep and about 1/2 inch in diameter with broadly oval cells perpendicular to the main tunnel is excavated. The excess soil thrown out of the burrow forms a regular, U-shaped mound at the entrance.

Once cells have been constructed, the search for cicadas begins. Canvassing tree trunks and lower limbs, the wasp stings its prey, turns the victim on its back, straddles it, and drags it or glides with it to the burrow. Each cell is furnished with at least one cicada (sometimes two or three) and a single egg before being sealed off. The egg hatches two or three days later and the larva feeds four to ten days, until only the cicada's outer shell remains. During the fall, the larva spins a silken case and prepares to overwinter. Only one generation occurs each year.

Symptoms: In spite of its formidable size and burrowing habit, this wasp is unusually docile and harmless. Although capable of inflicting a painful sting, the female cicada killer wasp is usually difficult to provoke. Mating males are aggressive and more easily disturbed, but cannot sting. An unsightly mound of soil surrounds the burrow of each cicada killer. Since colonies of burrows are common, infested lawns usually contain several mounds that can smother the grass. However, since cicada killers prefer to nest in areas of sparse vegetation, it is likely that infested turf was already unthrifty when the wasps arrived. They rarely burrow in thick, vigorous turf. Burrows are most commonly found in ornamental beds or under trees or tall foliage plants where there are areas of bare soil. 

Africanized Honey Bees
africanized_honey_bee.jpgDescription: Africanized honey bees (Apis mellifera scutellata) and European honey bees (Apis m. mellifera) are the same species - they look the same, sting in defense of themselves or their nest, can only sting once, and have the same venom. Africanized honey bees are slightly smaller (but because the bees look so much alike only a laboratory analysis can tell them apart). They also differ in that they respond more quickly and more bees sting, can sense a threat from people or animals 50 feet or more from their nest, sense vibrations from power equipment 100 feet or more from their nest, may pursue a victim 1/4 to 1/2 mile, remain agitated for an hour or more after an attack, swarm frequently to establish new nests, nest in smaller cavities and sheltered areas, and move their entire colony readily (abscond) if food is scarce. Away from the hive, however, they are no more defensive than other bees or wasps. They will not form large swarms and hunt for you.

Africanized honey bees (AHB) were first imported to the Americas in 1956 by the prominent Brazilian geneticist, Warwick Kerr. He thought there was a good possibility that he could utilize African stock to produce a new breed of honey bees, which would be less defensive than the wild African bees but which would be more productive than European honey bees (EHB) in Brazil's tropical setting.

Through selective breeding with European drones, Kerr and his associates had produced a number of first generation hybrids. In October of 1957 (according to Kerr), a local beekeeper wandered by, noticed the queen excluders and removed them. As the story goes, the removal of the excluders accidentally released 26 Africanized honey bee queens with small swarms into the nearby forest. Within a few years, reports began arriving from surrounding areas of wild bees relentlessly attacking farm animals and even humans. Many poor Brazilian farmers suffered livestock losses, and, eventually, there were human fatalities as well.

By the early 1960s, it was clear that a rapid expansion had occurred among feral bee colonies and that the Africanized honey bees were moving quickly into other parts of the country. Swarms of Africanized honey bees can move 60 miles or more at a time and build their nests in a variety of locations. By the 1980s, they had reached Mexico. On October 15, 1990, the first natural colony of Africanized honey bees was found in the United States, near Hidalgo, Texas.

During the second week of August, 2004, two samples of honey bees from Tillman County, Oklahoma were identified as Africanized honey bees. 

Carpenter Bees: 

carpenter_bees.jpgDescription: Carpenter bees are large, black and yellow insects about 1 inch long. They resemble bumble bees but the abdomen (rear end) is black and shiny and does not have the extensive yellow hairs found on bumble bee abdomens. The females can sting but rarely do so unless molested. The males cannot sting. Males have a yellow face while females have a black face.

Habitat: Carpenter bees cause damage to wooden structures by boring into timbers and siding to prepare nests. Carpenter bee nests weaken structural wood and leave unsightly holes and stains on building surfaces. Sound, undecayed wood without paint or bark is usually selected for nests; carpenter bees frequently attack dead wood on trees or lumber from southern yellow pine, white pine, California redwood, cedar, Douglas fir, cypress, mimosa, mulberry, ash, and pecan trees. They avoid most harder woods. The presence of carpenter bees around buildings and wooden structures can be annoying or even frightening; however, males cannot sting and females rarely attack. Carpenter bees are generally considered beneficial insects because they help pollinate various crop and noncrop plants. 

Life Cycle: Adults overwinter in nest tunnels in wood. They emerge in the spring, usually in late April or early May, and mating occurs within a few weeks. The newly fertilized female establishes a nest by burrowing into wood at right angles to the grain for about an inch. The tunnel has clean-cut, sharp edges and is 3/8 to 1/2 inch wide. The entrance and tunnels may appear like they were made with a brace and bit. The female then makes a 90 degree turn and burrows with the grain, usually for 4 to 6 inches. When the nest is completed, she places a mixture of nectar and pollen at the end and lays an egg on it. This will be the food supply for the developing larva. She then seals off the cell with a partition of chewed wood pulp. This process is repeated until 6 or 8 cells have been formed. The female may build a new nest by extending an old nest, and galleries up to 10 feet long have been formed in some cases. Larval development takes 5 or 6 weeks and new adults emerge during the summer and fall. These new adults store pollen in preparation for hibernation but do not mate and do little if any nest building. Carpenter bees frequently return to the nesting site(s) during following years.