European BeewolfBy Ellen Lambeth; photos by Milan Radisics/ naturepl.com
Don’t be fooled—this is no sweet “Rock-a-Bye, Baby” scene. It’s the result of a successful hunt!
The European beewolf (top insect in the photo above) is neither a bee nor a wolf. It’s a wasp. But, like a wolf, it’s a mighty hunter. And bees—honey bees in particular—are its prey. The beewolf doesn’t hunt prey for itself, though. It gets all the energy it needs from eating pollen and nectar. But beewolf babies do need fresh prey in order to grow. And beewolf moms make sure they get it.
After a male and female beewolf have mated, the female gets to work on the business of raising her family. If you think your mom has a tough job, keep reading to see what a beewolf mom has to do!
Like many bees and wasps, the beewolf visits flowers to feed on nectar and pollen.
The beewolf is a solitary (SAHluh- tair-ee) wasp. That means it lives alone—not in a colony, as honey bees do. It’s also a kind of digger wasp. And digging is one of the things a female beewolf does best!
First, she finds an area of sandy soil and starts to tunnel down (1). She digs out a network of underground “rooms.” While digging, she might have to move large grains of sand or even pebbles out of the way. Tough work! Once that’s done, she goes out to scout for honey bees. When she finds a bee, she stings it (2). The venom paralyzes the bee (makes it unable to move without killing it). Mama Beewolf then takes to the air, holding the bee tight with her legs, as shown on pages 22–23. She carries it back to her burrow and pulls it down inside (3).
The beewolf places the bee in one of the rooms underground. She then goes back out to hunt for more bees. After filling each room with a few bees, she lays an egg there. When each egg hatches, the larva (baby beewolf) has a ready supply of fresh food. As it eats and grows, Mom comes down once in a while to clear away any bee leftovers.
At the end of feasting, the larva spins a cocoon and stays in its room while it changes into an adult. Finally, a new beewolf breaks out of the cocoon and crawls up from the burrow. At the surface, it waits for its wings to get good and strong. Then it flies off to start a new cycle of life—free to be a grown-up beewolf (4).
Mama Beewolf studies the scene around her new nest hole so she can easily find it again.