- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Faster than a speeding bullet...
As soon as UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey opened a beehive and removed a chunk of honeycomb to show visitors, here came the speeding bullet. A fast camera shutter caught what the eye couldn't see.
It was a queen yellowjacket taking dead aim at the comb.
"The yellowjacket queen this time of year zeroes in on the honey as soon as you open a hive," said Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
"They build up their populations in the fall and eat the bees for protein to overwinter. They can actually kill bee colonies, especially weak ones. As meat-eating predators, these are common at picnic time, for which honey bees are often unfairly blamed."
Yes, honey bees are indeed unfairly blamed. Like human vegetarians, honey bees don't eat meat. They may land on your soda can for the sugar water, but meat doesn't interest them. They forage for nectar and pollen.
Now yellowjackets--they're predators. They love meats and sweets. You'll see these uninvited guests at your picnic or barbecue, boldly sampling your steak, hamburger or chicken; targeting your can of soda; or scavenging in and around your garbage can.
They also vigorously defend their nests, which look like paper combs. Do not go near their nests.
Their sting is painful. A yellowjacket recently nailed UC Cooperative Extension Apiculturist Eric Mussen beneath the collar as he was checking the honey bees at the Laidlaw facility.
Mussen noted that beekeepers inadvertently kill a few bees each time they open a hive and pry open the "stuck-together" frames with their hive tool. The dead bees fall to the ground--to the waiting yellowjackets. The yellowjackets then carry the bees off to their nest, chew them into pulp, and feed the "protein" to their brood.
More yellowjackets on the way.
And soon, more speeding bullets.