a somewhat occasional blog

Honey bee hunter stalks a heath near you

 The honey bee has many natural predators. There is none more fascinating than the Bee wolf (Philathus triangulum). The bee wolf used to be relatively rare in the UK, limited to loose colonies on the Isle of Wight and a few locations along the south coast of England.



The Bee Wolf expansion across England

Honey bee hunter - the bee wolf

Since the mid 1980s the bee wolf has expanded across England. It can now be found as far north as Yorkshire. In Blackheath, in London, there are quite a few loose colonies. The ones I know well are along the edge of Wat Tyler Road.

Honey Bee Prey for Wasp Young

Discarded honey bee by a bee wolf lair
Discarded honey bee by a bee wolf lair


Bee wolfs are our largest solitary wasp. In July and August the adults prey on honey bees, collecting and depositing the ambushed, paralysed prey in their deep tunnels. I am not sure, but as can be seen in the video, there may be a bit of interspecies theft that goes along around the colonies. I have twice witnessed a wasp arrive and enter a tunnel pursued by another. My first thought was that perhaps this was the male following to mate with the female.  It would appear, however,  the males holds small territories where mating presumably happens.

Bee Wolfs – ancient tunnellers


Bee wolf - Blackheath
Female bee wolf at the entrance to her tunnel – Blackheath


Considering their size, bee wolves are incredible ‘natural’ engineers. Digging a one metre tunnel, then a series of shorter side tunnels, takes some doing. We humans think we have mastered the universe, but bee wolves, like must other insects, have probably being doing this since we were still bashing flints against each other to make fire.


Bee wolf under carriage Honey Bee
In flight Bee Wolf with Honey Bee



Bee wolf with prey arriving at hole
Bee wolf with prey arriving at hole
Bee wolf dragging Honey bee into tunnel
Bee wolf dragging Honey bee into tunnel


But there is a wolf in sheep’s clothing that preys on the wolf

Sadly there have only been two records of a tiny wasp Hedychrum rutilans in the UK. What a beauty this wasp is. And it takes on the bee wolf at its own game, but in a lazier fashion. Found on the continent, this little jewel smuggles itself into the bee wolf burrow, and lays its eggs on the bee wolf larva. The intruding wasp larva gets a double feast on both the hosts and the hosts menu – the honey bee.

So when you see a small hole in a path…?

The world of nesting solitary bees and wasps is fascinating. To witness it all takes a bit of time and patience. It is worth it though.. So when you see tiny holes in the path you are walking, don’t dismiss them. Take a little time to see what dramas are unfolding beneath your feet. You will be surprised.

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