16 January 2012

Bees, wasps and hornets

On the alt.usage.english newsgroup we've been having a discussion on bees, wasps and hornets, and it seems that the names of these insects vary a great deal from country to country.

In my youth I used to be terrified of insects like the one in the picture on the right, which used to come buzzing into our classroom during morning lessons and distract us from anything our teachers were saying.

When I was at Mountain Lodge School in Magaliesberg we used to call them "hornets", but I later heard they were called "mason wasps". This picture comes from an American web page here, where they are called "mud daubers".

I've looked for pictures of mason wasps on the web, and they don't look much like the insect in the picture. As far as I can judge the picture shows the insect pretty much life size, at least for the ones we have around here.

They seem to be solitary insects -- unlike common South African wasps, they don't live in colonies. They come into our house about November-February, and buzz around looking for places to build their nests. And if not chased out, one will come across the nest, weeks, months or sometimes years later -- in a fold in a curtain, or when pulling a book off a bookshelf. Their nests, as the American name implies, are made of mud.

What I would like to know is what they are called in South Africa. If they are not hornets, and not mason wasps, then what are they?

I've never been stung by one, and am not as scared of them was I was when I was 9-10 years old, though I still discourage them from nesting in the house because I don't like finding books whose pages are glued together with a mud construction.


James Higham said...

I prefer "hornet". Has a nicer sound to it and there was a British dinghy called the Hornet.

CherryPie said...

It does look rather large but it is not displaying its sting so I guess it is harmless unless provoked. Unlike our rather smaller wasps here, there stings are always out and they settle sting first. I have been stung several times by them.

Bees however are harmless unless threatened or provoked. There stings are hidden until then.

Steve Hayes said...


Our bees sometimes tend to be more aggressive. One swarm decided to settle in a house where I was living with a bunch of other people and they would just go out and sting people without any provocation at all, and eventually we called a professional beekeeper to remove them.

But these mudpie wasps are not aggressive, just a bit if a nuisance because of the places they build their nests. Paper-nest wasps, however, are sometimes aggressive -- the sometimes build nests in the eaves of our house, and then sting anyone who goes near.


Related Posts with Thumbnails