Honey is largely associated by bees. If you mention bees, a person’s mind immediately thinks honey or run, because of the fear of being stung. Wasps and hornets are rarely, if ever, associated with honey. However, there is a species from the wasp family, which produces edible honey. This honey is considered a delicacy in some areas. Not many people are aware of this fact. It gets even more interesting. The honey produced by the wasp is likened to maple syrup and can be used just we use the normal honey that we get from their biological cousins, the bees.
So, can a wasp produce honey? Yes, a wasp can produce honey but only specific species. They share a genus family with the bee but their species is the variation. The brachygastra mellifica, commonly known as a Mexican honey wasp, is one of the few wasp species that has the capability to produce honey.
Did you know? Mexican Honey Wasps are found through most of the subtropical Mexico and Central America. They are also found in most of the South of Texas and south-eastern Arizona, where it is very hot.
What about Hornets – can hornet produce honey? No, they do not produce any type of honey. They mostly feed on other insects and small bugs. They are good in pest population control and pollination of some crops. A good example is how they are used in pollination of avocados by some farmers.
Wasps making honey, really?
Yes. The honey produced by the brachygastra mellifica has been compared to maple syrup. The production, compared to bees, is very low. Some people, even today, still remain sceptical about the whole concept of wasp honey. Most wasp species are observed to do the complete opposite of production. They actually steal honey from bees and carry it to their nests. Since most species do not have the ability to make honey, they just switch to their survival modes and just take it from the bees. They use it for nourishment and feeding their larvae as well. Talk about having your hard work taken from you. The bees know this only too well.
However, in some parts of Asia, there is a species whose secretions are used in some other ways. The Asian giant hornet. This species of wasps produces some sweet secretions that are collected by some beverage companies and are used as one of the ingredients in energy drinks. We can bet that was a fact very few people knew about.
What do wasps eat to produce honey?
Wasps are mostly carnivorous in nature feed their larvae with the carcasses of the prey. Some deposit their larvae in other larger wasp nests and feed on their host larvae. Others lay eggs inside prey itself for them to develop into larvae while feeding on the carcass of the prey. They collect nectar and other plant materials to their throat. They then regurgitate a honey like substance to feed their larvae. Since they are almost always flying, the energy they get is from the prey the feed on. The energy is gotten after digestion in the form of proteins and lipids. They also feed on fruit, fruit juices, honey, nectar and plants. Some lay their eggs in plants that supply food to the larvae as it grows.
Where do honey wasps live?
The B. mellifica builds nests that are 4ocm to 50cm. These nests can host any number of wasps from 4,000 to 18, 500 wasps in one nest and are quite full. The texture of their nests feels like a rough cardboard due to the materials they use to build them. Since some lay their eggs in plants, the environment works as a double service. It provides food and shelter for the larvae that are hatched in them. The larvae grow and are safe in the plant while still feeding on its sap and juices.
Like every other shelter, wasp nests have great security. Their soldier bees can sting up to four times unlike the bees, which do it once and die. The females are the ones with the stingers. That is quite a drift from the norm in society. You have to be careful around wasps. They are relentless in protecting their nest.
Wasp nest and their hierarchy
The system in a nest has a certain type of hierarchy. The queen is the gem of the nest and is protected. They run the nest. They decide when it is necessary to get new queens to fertilize or move with some workers and build another nest.
The females that can not be fertilized then become female worker bees. They work together with the male worker bees and provide security for the queens. They also build the shelter and look for food for the hive. They have the stingers and are not afraid to use them for the good of their colony.
The male worker bees are called drones. Aside from providing security, they fertilize the females to ensure continuity of their colony. Once a queen deems it, right to find her own hive, she carries a few of the drones from the colony to go and start their own colony.
How long to honey wasps live?
Wasps do not live for long. The honey producing one, B. mellifica have different lengths of lifespans depending on their nature in the hive. The female workers have a lifespan of 12 to 22 days. The drones have just a slightly longer lifespan than the female workers do. The queens have a lifespan that averages 12 months.
What do wasps do?
Wasps are great when you are trying to control pest population around where you are. As earlier mentioned on their food behavior, they feed on small insects and larvae. They are used by some farmers in their lands to kill some pests that attack crop and affect its yield.
The wasp honey is used as syrup. However, one is advised to be careful. Since the wasp honey is regurgitated food from the wasp, there are chances of poisoning. Wasps ingest plants whose chemical components may not affect them but are harmful to humans.
The Asian giant hornet usually has secretions, as mentioned before. These secretions are used in Japan in energy drinks. It is a fact that not a lot of people now. And now, you are among them.
These wasps are also used as pollinators some times. Though not as heavy pollinators as bees are, they still get the job done.
Did you know? Believe it or not, the B. mellifica is also enjoyed as a delicacy. In some towns in Mexico, these wasps are served and eaten in their larva stage, together with the wasp honey, all year round.
The insects can be cooked and put in food items. One popular one is the taco. Can you believe enjoying a wasp taco? And the larvae, get this, are considered a great luxury. Makes you think.
How to identify a honey wasp
The B. mellifica is very easy to identify. Their abdomens are as long as they are wide. The worker males have the same appearance as the worker females. They have alternating bands of black and yellow. Queens, as it should be, are an exception. They have a dark, reddish brown coloration on their abdomen.
As for the worker bees, the females are the ones with the stinger.
Honey Wasps versus Honey Bees
The differences in anatomy make it easier for bees to use nectar to make honey as opposed to wasps. Though they both belong to the order Hymenoptera, they have many differences between them. The most obvious differences are:
- Bees collect pollen while wasps do not. Bees have hairy bodies allow them to carry a good amount of pollen around and pollinate flowers while the body of a wasp allows only little to no pollen transfer.
- Bees store food while wasps do not. Bees store food in the form of honey and use it as a preserve for times such as winter. Wasps do not store any food. They eat fresh larvae and insects and steal honey from the storage of the bees.
- Wasps, apart from the specified species, do not make honey while bees are known for their honey.
- Wasps have mouthparts that are designed to chew their prey while bees’ mouth parts are designed to get liquid from plants.
- Wasps’ nests are made of paper or wood fiber chewed to pulp while bee hives are made of wax that they secrete.
- Wasps can sting one more than once while bees can sting only once before they die.
- Bees are hairy while wasps have a sort of smooth, shiny skin.
- Bees attack when provoked while wasps are naturally more aggressive predators.
But wait…a final thought
Most of the time, honey found in wasp nests is honey they have stolen from bees. It is not easy to find wasp honey but when you do, indulge. Enjoy the product of nature. But be sure it is safe.