Two weeks ago, I received an email with an exciting invitation from another beekeeper. Mike, had been called out to a golf course to collect what the owners suspected was an Asian Hornet hive. The invitation was for me to join him in the dissection of the hive itself, so naturally I said yes!
Ok, let’s back up a moment. For those who don’t know, the Asian Hornet is THE arch-nemesis of the honeybees, the latest addition to the UK population anyway. It is not dissimilar to the European Hornet, which in essence does exactly the same: preys on honeybees, pulls their head and wings apart to eat the protein-reach flesh of the abdomen and looks huge and scary with a nasty sting. The biggest difference though, is that the European Hornet is native, has been around a while, local beekeepers know it and they get it – its existence is generally accepted. The Asian Hornet on the other hand, has not been around that long (less than two years), is an invasive species and is incredibly more greedy and hungry for little bee delights, easily devouring forty honeybees per minute.
Of course, it meant bad news for our area if there was an Asian Hornet’s nest, but nevertheless I was excited to see one as I had never done so before. Mike was still unsure if this was indeed an Asian Hornet’s nest and so the dissection was to verify whether it was or not, by identifying key features, such as a “porch” by the entrance…
Finally, last Sunday I went over to Mike’s house and, after a coffee and cake, we got down to business. As Mike was bringing the nest indoor from the greenhouse, my first impression was how small it was. I somehow expected it much larger and was only slightly disappointed. Of course, I did ask him if this was an average sized nest for a hornet and, as he is no expert himself on Asian Hornets, just offered a vague explanation of how all wasps and hornet nest sizes can vary significantly.
Getting to lift it myself, it was incredibly light and you could tell they used the same technique wasps do when building their nests, gnaw on some wood, mix it with saliva, and effectively build a nest made of paper or papier marche (with the French accent). A precisely engineered home that was only meant to last the season and built really quickly, hence no need for over-engineered materials or structure.
Once we cut our first slice through, we were amazed at the orientation of the comb. Unlike a (honey)beehive, where the comb is built vertical to the ground this was build parallel to the ground. What was also confusing was the lack of structural joint between the comb and the shell of the nest. The comb did not touch the sides of the nest but instead had a small gap. Or at least that’s what it seemed like from our angle. So we continued to peel the shell off, very much like an onion, layer after layer after layer. We eventually revealed a mushroom-like structure of layers of comb, with cells only on one side and with support coming from the centre of the comb behind. Our peeling exercise also revealed a dead adult. Aha! We would definitely identify this nest now, porch or no porch.
Sadly, that’s where the fun started to wane down… The adult found was a wasp. Definitely, unquestionably, a wasp. Not even a European hornet, a wasp. The irony is that, logically speaking, we should have been elated that no Asian hornet nest was found in Warwickshire, UK. but, if you’d looked at our faces, they were plastered with disappointment in not finding something exotic. Yes, well, we had dissected and thoroughly analysed our nest, our not-so-exciting-others-probably-seen-many-times-before wasp nest.
After suggesting that this was a German wasp, the only kind of wasp Mike is aware of that nests out in the open, and reassuring ourselves that this was good news in the end and reminding ourselves (repeatedly), that we had “learned something new today” (albeit about a mere wasp nest), we took some more photos and sat down to enjoy another cup of coffee before my departure.
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