There are hundreds of species of wasps, hornets and bees found around the world. Only a few of these are seen as real pests here in South Africa and not all of them sting.
Some species, like the Honey Bee, are facing major threats - including disease, pollution, climate change and insufficient forage in urban environments - and need to be protected and encouraged.
Bees and the environment:
Bees are one of nature's single most important pollinators. This is because pollen sticks to the hairs on their bodies. As bees move from flower to flower in search of nectar, grains of pollen are transferred between plants, facilitating pollination.
Bees pollinate billions of plants each year, including millions of agricultural crops. Without bees, many plants we rely on for food would die off. Even if a crop is not directly pollinated by bees, the crop still benefits indirectly from being in an environment of increased bio-diversity.
Encouraging bees in your garden:
As a valuable part of our ecosystem, Honey Bees should be protected and encouraged. In June 2018 the Western Cape government released their Bee Industry Strategy, outlining the province's strategy to address these threats and to prevent any further drastic impact on the honey bee population of the Western Cape.
I came across an article recently about how the Radisson Blu in the USA is hosting honeybees on their rooftops. The hotel started with approximately 20,000 bees and the colony has grown to over 40,000 bees in a few short months. perhaps some of our local hotels could follow suit?
National Geographic has some great tips for helping bees and other pollinators thrive in your garden, including:
- choosing indigenous plants in a wide range of shapes, sizes and colours to encourage diversity
- making sure that you have something in flower each season so that bees can feed
- going easy on the pesticides - use companion planting to encourage natural pest control.
Wasps and the environment:
Wasps may look like bees but are generally not covered with fuzzy hairs. As a result, they are much less efficient at pollination, because pollen is less likely to stick to their bodies and to be transferred from flower to flower.
Wasps are often mistaken for bees and are also confused with other stinging insects. They are notorious for building their nests in places where people like to gather: for example around your deck, or in the eaves of your house, but they can also go undisturbed in attics and lofts until they are discovered in the spring.
Most Common Bees and Wasps in South Africa:
South Africa is home to two sub-species of honeybees which are indigenous to the country: Apis mellifera Scutellata (or African bee) and Apis mellifera Capensis (or Cape bee).
Indigenous South African Paper Wasp:
South Africa is also home to the indigenous South African Paper Wasp (Polistes marginalis) which has a brown body with white and black stripes, and brown legs. Paper wasps are usually docile - but will attack if threatened. They seldom swarm or chase targets. Wasps are not protected in the same way as bees are.
Invasive European Paper Wasp and the German Wasp:
Over the last few years, South Africans have been reporting a rise in invasive wasp species - particularly the European paper wasp (Polistes dominula) and the German wasp or yellow-jacket (Vespula germanica) have found the Cape Metro and Boland to be ideal habitat suited for their expansion. If left uncontrolled they may spread to the majority of towns in the Western Cape and other provinces where the climate is even more suited to their ideal requirements.
In contrast to the indigenous South Africa Paper Wasp, the German Wasp is very aggressive. It will actively defend its nest and will readily sting when the nest is disturbed. It will swarm and chase a target for quite a distance. The European paper wasp is described as being usually rather docile but will attack if threatened. On hot days they will be more active, aggressive and more likely to attack, however, they do not swarm and chase a target.
Both of these highly invasive wasp species are expanding their range throughout Cape Town and the Western Cape, necessitating that the City of Cape Town has measures in place to control the spread of these wasps. They have the potential to create problems ranging from simply being a nuisance to causing a serious economic impact for the wine, deciduous fruit and beekeeping industries.
Some Facts about Bees:
- The bee's brain is oval in shape and about the size of a sesame seed, yet it has a remarkable ability to learn and remember things. Bees are able to make complex calculations on distance travelled and foraging efficiency.
- A colony of bees consists of 20,000-60,000 honey bees and one queen.
- Worker honey bees are female, live for about 6 weeks and do all the work.
- The queen bee can live up to 5 years and is the only bee that lays eggs. She is the busiest in the summer months when the hive needs to be at its maximum strength and lays up to 2500 eggs per day.
- Male honey bees (also called drones), have no stinger and do no work. All they do is mate.
- For more fascinating bee facts, visit matteroftrust.org
Some Facts about Wasps:
- Wasps make nests from paper. They chew up strips of bark and spit it out again to form a rough paper.
- Contrary to popular belief, only female wasps have a sting that they can use repeatedly if they feel threatened.
- Wasps can often be confused with bees, however, bees are furrier.
- The lifecycle of a wasp depends on the species, but in general, a worker wasps life can last 12-22 days, while a queen can live up to a year.
- Wasps can also very social creatures and will build colonies based on how well they mate.
- Because the purpose of a wasp's life is to mate and create offspring, unmated wasps die off - effectively dying of loneliness.
- Wasps are fierce predators and they hunt and eat almost every insect pest that harms crops, including grasshoppers, aphids and flies.
What to do with bees or wasps in your garden?
Both bees and wasps nests need to be professionally removed.
Bees: If you think you have a bees nest on your property, you should contact a beekeeper who understands bee behaviour. This is because African and Cape bees can become very aggressive when their homes are disturbed. A trained beekeeper will be able to move the swarm with minimal harm to themselves and the bees. Contact the South African Bee Industry Organisation for a list of registered beekeepers in your area or Southerns Beekeeping Services for a list of beekeepers in the Gauteng region.
Wasps: Wasps, on the other hand, can be removed by a reputable pest control company. They will spray and remove the nest and also do a barrier spray to eliminate any remaining wasps. Wasps are not protected and because of their extremely painful (and sometimes dangerous) stings, they are considered a pest.
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