Friday, February 8, 2013

Is it Bees in My Tree?

Chances are, if you've seen a big ball that looks like a huge hive up in your tree, you do not have bees.  You actually have Mexican Honey Wasps!

The news has been abuzz lately about homeowners scared to fits of bees nesting in their trees.  Well, these are not bees, these are very small (5-7mm) wasps, more the size of a house fly than a bee and non-aggressive.  If you see the actual wasps, they cannot be mistaken for bees.  They are not hairy, much smaller, nearly all black, and have non of the markings of a bee.

Mexican honey wasps, Brachygastra mellifica, are a social wasp that builds paper nests in the canopy of trees and shrubs.  They are native to Texas and range from Texas to Nicaragua.  There are 16 different species of Mexican honey wasps, however only one has been reported in Texas.

Colonies can become quite large, containing up to 18,000 wasps, and can cause concern when homeowners spot the large basketball or football shaped nest attached to the branches, however they are non-aggressive wasps and often live peacefully with their human neighbors.  If you climb up into the tree, throw rocks at it, squirt it with the water hose or something else disruptive, of course they are going to get irritated and your chances of being stung will increase.  But mowing, closing the car door or other regular activities largely go unnoticed by the wasps.

Mexican honey wasps are considered beneficial insects, much like honey bees.  They are nectar gatherers, pollinators, and have been known to predate upon harmful insects such as the Asian citrus psyllid that causes citrus greening in citrus.  

These are very interesting wasps and one of those insects that I tend to suggest: "live and let live." Also, contrary to the news reports, the nests are extremely well built and it would take a near tornado force wind to knock it out of the tree along with the branches it has been built around.