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Lock up your bees!

Matthew Chatfield
Latest posts by Matthew Chatfield (see all)

Sometimes, the name of a species isn’t really very informative. Oonops pulcher, for example (a spider), means ‘beautiful egg-eyes’. Not much information, although ideal for tormenting it with if ever you actually recognise one. Not so with Philanthus triangulum, the European beewolf. Ok, so in English the binomial name means something like ‘Triangular flower-lover‘. Let’s just leave that one aside. Because its English name must have been given by an aircraft designer, so apt is it. Philanthus is a spectacularly large and fearsome-looking hunting wasp, although harmless to humans. What’s more, unlike its fellows it doesn’t hunt those soppy caterpillars, nor the errant but harmless flies. No, this one goes for the big prize: honeybees. Philanthus can overpower, paralyse and carry a honeybee home, where it will lay an egg on the torpid bee that serves as living food for the Philanthus larva. Each female beewolf lives alone, making a tunnel-like nest in which her gruesome babies and their hosts live. However, beewolves are sociable, if not social, creatures, and tend to crowd together. Loving the sun, they’ve been having a hard time of it this year. But the Isle of Wight is nothing if not sunny, and one such colony of tunnels was found by The Ranger and Cat recently right in the middle of Ryde esplanade, close to the beach. Enjoy this video of one of these industrious little mothers preparing the way for her next cargo of paralysed bees:

The thronging footpath to the golden sands passed right nearby, and the busy wasps risked destruction with each passing foot – or more likely, when someone saw these terrible monsters and rang the council to have them sprayed to death. As a harmless (to humans) Red Data Book species this would probably not be a good idea. Luckily, this particular beach is under The Ranger’s control, so if these little living attack-helicopters survive the deluge this summer they won’t have to worry about humans having a go at them, at least.

Matthew Chatfield

Uncooperative crusty. Unofficial Isle of Wight cultural ambassador. Conservation, countryside and the environment, with extra stuff about spiders.

5 thoughts on “Lock up your bees!

  • Pauline

    I have just seen one of those too in my greenhouse I took it outside and it flew off, it too was like the brown one with its stinger out, eek
    I am in north Yorkshire is there a lot of these things about and are they harmful?

  • Rebecca Burdess

    Yup, I think this is it…… it looked more like the one on the left….having looked it up am not sure whether it was Genus Tremex or Eriotremex, but it was certainly not good for the blood pressure! Gave us quite a fright, I can tell you..

  • The Virtual Ranger

    I am adamant, you’re right about that. There are many big, fearsome looking insects in the British Isles that can be mistaken for hornets, but most of them are fairly uncommon. Occam’s razor suggests to me that one of these is what you saw rather than an entirely unknown population of V. mandarinia.

    Also, if you saw a ‘stinger’ then it was not a hornet or wasp – their stings are hidden. You more likely saw a sawfly or possibly ichneumon. How about this horntail?

  • Rebecca Burdess

    I know you’re ADAMANT that there are no Vespa Mandarinia hornets in our northern climes but while on holiday in Kerry in the far southwest of Ireland recently, my 6yr old daughter began to scream that there was something in her hair. Imagine my shock when on approaching her I saw a very large, long black and yellow insect on her head. It had brown wings, definitely a black thorax and a prominent yellow stinger. Unfortunately my instinct was to get it off her asap, and I wish I had caught it because I am convinced it was one of these asian giant hornets. Go on, call me a lunatic………but I know what I saw……


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