August 9, 2018 by glenfoerd
Ask anyone the difference between bees and wasps and they’re likely to say something like this: bees make honey, wasps don’t.
Setting aside the fact that the majority of bees (even within the honeybee’s family Apidae) are solitary and do not produce honey, the assertion that wasps do not produce honey is incorrect. Most wasps, it is true, do not make honey. Many wasps are predators and feed on other insects. Some enjoy fruit, or even nectar as honeybees do. Many will even break into beehives and steal honey if they are able. But over a dozen species of wasps in Central and South America are known to produce honey, and have long been exploited by humans for this ability.
Most well-known among the honey-producing wasps is the Mexican Honey Wasp (Brachygastra mellifica). This species ranges from northern Panama to the southern counties of Texas and Arizona. This wasp is social, and will establish colonies hidden in the lush foliage of trees and shrubs. Like other social wasps, Mexican Honey Wasps make paper nests, sometimes over a foot in diameter and generally spherical. A single colony can contain anywhere from 3,500 to 18,700 individuals but unlike many social wasps, Mexican Honey Wasps tend to be very docile and will not attack unless very thoroughly provoked.
While honeybees only consume nectar and food made from pollen, Mexican Honey Wasps still predate upon other insects, especially nymphs of the Asian Citrus Psyllid, a sap-sucking bug and major pest of citrus crops; there’s even reason to believe that the life cycles of the honey wasps are closely tied to that of the psyllid. But what goes into the honey is the same for these wasps as it is for the bees: nectar, and lots of it. These wasps are important pollinators, same as their apian cousins.
Unfortunately, many of us are unlikely to get to try wasp honey without a good amount of travelling & just a little luck. But you can still enjoy plenty of bee honey, and learn more about the insects that make it, at this year’s Philadelphia Honey Festival, taking place September 7-9 at Glen Foerd on the Delaware (Sept. 7), Wyck House (Sept. 8), and Bartram’s Garden (Sept. 9).