Most people believe that only bees make honey, but in this article, we will introduce you to the honey wasp – a unique variety of wasps that can produce honey.
Honey bees and wasps share many similarities, but bees are unique in that they can produce honey.
If you believe that statement, you would be wrong, my friend!
Yes, some wasps can produce something similar to honey. But is it close enough to the regular honey we get from bees? Can we humans consume it?
In this article, let us find out which unique species of wasps produce honey and whether we can consume it or not.
Yes, Honey Wasps Make Honey
Honey wasps are from the genus Brachygastra. There are 17 different species of honey wasps.
These fascinating insects store honeydew and nectar in their bodies as a backup to help the colony survive in rough conditions.
These nectar and honeydew reserves are called honey, just like the ones bees make.
Honey wasps are social insects, and they live in large wasp colonies. You can find abundant populations of honey wasps in Central and South America.
There is a difference between male and female honey wasps. For example, only female Mexican honey wasps have stingers.
The worker wasps and male Mexican honey wasps have the same body color, with yellow and black stripes on the abdomen.
You can identify the queens by their reddish-brown abdomens.
Where Are Honey Wasps Found?
Honey wasps live throughout Central and South America. Northern Panama, parts of Central America, and Mexico are happy hunting grounds for them.
These are social wasps that live in colonies. They make a unique type of nest called a paper nest.
These paper nests are created by a mixture of wood pulp and wasp saliva.
The nests are huge and contain many hexagonal cells. These nests are usually constructed on a tree branch or near human settlements.
These nests contain various layers of a continuous network of hexagonal cells.
The nest is usually brown or gray in color, depending on the material used for the building.
What Do They Eat?
Like many other wasp species, honey wasps are omnivorous. Adult wasps rely on nectar from flowers.
They are also particularly fond of a sweet substance left by aphids called honeydew.
In some cases, you can spot these species of wasps landing on sweet food items like fruit juices, soda, and more.
The wasp larva is carnivorous. The adult wasp uses its aerodynamic body to hunt pests and other insects to feed to the young.
The flower nectar is a food source that provides simple sugar that gives energy to the wasp. The pollen provides the necessary protein.
Life Cycle of Honey Wasps
Unlike solitary wasps, social wasps have a different life cycle. Yes, they too, undergo metamorphosis, but many other details differ from solitary wasps.
Each honey wasp colony has a caste system containing one queen wasp (who lays the eggs), female workers, and male wasps.
The cycle starts with a fertile queen emerging in spring from hibernation.
This queen finds a suitable spot to build the nest using a wood pulp and saliva mixture. She first builds a few hexagonal cells and lays the eggs.
These eggs undergo a complete metamorphosis to become adults.
The newly emerged adults act as the first worker wasps of the colony and are responsible for expanding the colony. They also rear the young.
Once the workers get active, the queen produces around 200-300 eggs daily.
The queen also releases some pheromones that keep the wasps in the nest united.
The colony expands rapidly during the summer, and the nest size also increases.
As summer ends, the existing queen starts developing new queens.
As winter approaches, the existing queen dies, and the remaining wasps leave the nest. The new queens mate with fertile males and hibernate throughout the winter.
In spring, these wasps come out and restart the nest.
Honey Wasps vs Honey Bees
You will be fascinated to know that bees and wasps are related.
Honey bees and honey wasps are both social insects, and they live in large colonies.
However, honey bees have comparatively larger colonies. A bee species colony can have around 20,000 – 50,000 bees.
Both species can have multiple queens. One of the biggest differences between the two is that honey bees are much more aggressive than wasps.
Honey wasps are not aggressive if they are left alone.
Both species have stingers and are capable of delivering painful stings. According to the Schmidt Sting Pain Index, honey bee stings reach the mid-way on the scale.
The honey wasps also get a score of 2 on the scale, which is somewhat similar to the bees.
Honey wasps store the nectar and honeydew as a backup to support the colony in rough times. Honey bees also make and store honey to survive the cold.
Honey bees and honey wasps both start new colonies through swarming.
Honey wasps are excellent for pest control, and they are decent pollinators. However, honey bees are comparatively better pollinators.
Also, honey wasps can use the stinger multiple times, but honey bees can only use it once. After using the stinger, they die.
However, the queen can use the stinger multiple times.
How Do Honey Wasps Make Honey?
These honey wasps land from flower to flower to suck nectar and fulfill their diet.
The wasp then regurgitates this nectar to convert it into honey. This honey is stored at the bottom of the nest. However, this honey is not covered with beeswax.
Since the colony size is smaller than the number of bees, the amount of honey is comparatively less.
The honey produced by Mexican honey wasps tastes like sugary syrup.
Also, the honey wasps are comparatively less aggressive than the bees, but they will attack if you approach the nest recklessly.
Is the Honey Wasp Honey Real?
Yes, the honey produced by honey wasps is real.
Firstly, the composition of wasp honey is somewhat similar to variants of bee honey, like western honey.
The honey collected by both insects comes from common food sources like sunflower, mesquite, and honeydew.
Again, both types of honey have a similar shelf life.
You must know that honey is a concentrated form of nectar that is usually stored for longer periods.
Also, honey contains amazing antibacterial qualities.
This protects the food from being damaged by harmful bacteria and microbes.
The honey made by the wasp is stored in the back of the nest. It can be used to feed the colony when food is limited.
They store nectar, as the wasps cannot store protein sources like insects.
However, the biggest question is, can humans consume the honey made by these wasps? Let us find out in the next section.
Can Humans Eat It?
Yes, humans can consume the honey made by these wasps.
In South America, this honey is harvested and consumed by the locals in the region.
However, you must be very careful while consuming this honey, as it can be toxic if the wasps have produced the honey using flowers like Datura.
Also, this honey is not commercially stored as the amount of honey produced by the wasps is comparatively much less than that produced by honey bees.
This is quite obvious as the colony size differs between the two.
What Do Honey Wasp Nests Look Like?
Honey wasp nests have many hexagonal chambers.
The queen and the initial workers start building the first hexagonal cells, which are later expanded by new workers.
The nest has an oval or sausage shape. Also, this nest is built using wood pulp and saliva mixed together.
The material has a paper-like composition and is usually brown or gray in color.
Do Honey Wasps Bite?
Honey wasps are usually calm insects until you disturb the nest. You must know that only female Mexican honey wasps have a stinger.
However, the honey wasp can deliver painful stings. These stings can be almost as painful as those of a honey bee.
Therefore, you should maintain your distance from them.
Are They Dangerous To Humans?
Yes, honey wasp stings can be dangerous to humans as they are highly painful.
Also, the honey produced by them can be toxic if it is made from flowers like Datura.
However, like other common wasps, they can help control crop pests.
There are also other benefits of wasps. They are decent pollinators and can help your garden grow evenly.
Interesting Facts About Honey Wasps
Apart from the information mentioned above, there are some other fascinating facts about honey wasps that you might have missed. This section will list a few of them.
- Honey wasps consume ﬂoral nectar. By doing so, they also pollinate the plants. They also consume pollen to get the necessary proteins.
- In the case of the Mexican honey bees, the males and females are different. Only the females have stingers. Males are harmless and they will not sting.
- Honey bees and honey wasps live in huge insect colonies. However, honey wasps can have hundreds of queens.
- The existing queen of a wasp colony dies when the new season of autumn approaches. The other queens then mate with fertile males and hibernate throughout the winter.
- A new wasp colony is created by the queen wasp and the initial few workers that the queen gives birth to soon after emerging.
- Honey wasps are attracted to sugary syrups, soda, fruits, juices, and more. They can also be found swarming around trash cans to collect these foods.
- The wasps are useful to get rid of crop pests as they are experts in hunting them down and feeding them to larvae.
- Honey wasps also swarm in an area to build a big nest with continuous hexagonal chambers. These nests look similar to honeycombs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Which wasps produce honey?
Honey wasps are social insects that store honeydew and nectar in their bodies as a backup for survival.
There are 17 different species of honey wasps found in Central and South America.
The honey stored by honey wasps is similar to the honey made by bees.
Only female Mexican honey wasps have stingers, while the worker wasps and male Mexican honey wasps have yellow and black striped abdomens.
Queens can be identified by their reddish-brown abdomens.
Do wasps have nutritional value?
Bees and wasps are similar to other insects in terms of their nutritional value, containing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
They are considered a good source of nourishment, with bee larvae containing 250 kcal per 100 grams, along with carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.
Both adults and larvae are consumed, and adult wasps reportedly taste like pine seeds.
However, it is important to obtain them without being stung.
Do hornets make honey?
Hornets do not make honey, but they do collect honeydew and juices from plants, as well as spiders and small insects, to feed their larvae.
Unlike bees, hornets and wasps do not have hairy bodies, which limits the amount of liquid they can carry during each trip.
Bees use nectar to make honey, but hornets do not.
Similarly, honey wasps can make honey from the nectar they store in their bodies.
Do wasps pollinate?
Wasps also pollinate by gathering and eating sugar from flowers or sugary drinks.
They are not as efficient as bees but can be useful backup pollinators in habitats where there are not enough of the right flowers for bees to thrive, such as cities and farmland.
As more of the natural world becomes disturbed and urbanized by humans, wasps may become more important pollinators in the future.
Honey wasps are fascinating species of insects that can produce honey using nectar and honeydew left by aphids.
The honey is stored in the hives to help the colony survive during times of food shortages. These insects share several similarities with honey bees.
However, the latter lives in much larger colonies and produces much more honey than the wasps.
Also, the honey produced by these wasps can be consumed by humans. But remember, this honey can be toxic if made with the nectar of some specific flowers.
The stings of these wasps can be highly painful, which is why you must be careful around them.
Stay safe, and thank you for reading the article.
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