The life of an insect is a harsh one, a story of hunt or be hunted. This is a story that plays out amongst the wildflowers at Newport Wetlands every day, right beneath our feet. A story that often goes unnoticed, except for those rare moments when you are there to witness the drama unfold. This is true for this week’s wildlife spectacle when a member of the team witnessed a beewolf hunt and capture its prey, illuminating the invertebrate’s fascinating life.

Female beewolf resting on fleabane at Newport Wetlands. Photo credit: Rhiannon Munro

The beewolf (Philanthus Triangulum) is one of the largest and most impressive solitary wasps in Britain. Once considered an extreme rarity, this species has undergone steady increases in both range and abundance since the late 1980's.

Female beewolf found at Newport Wetlands. Photo credit: Rhiannon Munro

Females are large imposing wasps, growing up to 17mm in length and can be easily identified by the narrow reddish stripe behind the eye and extensively pale face. Males are much smaller, featuring striking bluish eyes and a distinctive trident-like mark between the eyes.

Female beewolf up close, displaying her pale face. Photo credit: Rhiannon Munro

Females display a narrow reddish stripe behind the eye. Photo credit: Rhiannon Munro

Favouring habitats of open sandy ground on lowland heathland and coastal dunes, this spectacular wasp can be found on the wing from early July to mid-September.

Nests are constructed in sandy soil and can often be found in large aggregations. Females will dig a burrow up to a metre long, with multiple side burrows (approx. 34) that end in brood chambers.

Males of this species congregate together in a form of lek, where each male defends a small territory and emits pheromones in the hope of attracting a female. After mating, the males play no role in the nesting process.

Despite being a specialist predator of the honeybee (Apis mellifera), this species will feed on nectar and instead utilise prey as a source of food for sustaining growing larva throughout winter. The female will paralyse the honeybee with a sting and tightly carry it back to her burrow. At the burrow, she will cover the paralysed honeybee in a special chemical which helps to prevent harmful bacteria and fungi from growing and killing larva. Eggs also release a gas that inhibits the growth of life-threatening fungi. It has been estimated that over 100
bees may be collected by a single female beewolf during the flight period.

A honeybee captured by a female beewolf at Newport Wetlands. Photo credit: Rhiannon Munro

Summer at Newport Wetlands might not be the most successful season for birdwatching, but it is a time to pay attention to the smaller beasts that lurk amongst the wildflowers.

Rhiannon Munro