Bee Rescue continued
Another interesting inhabitant in the lower part of the tree hollow below the honey bee colony was a small paper nest that belonged to one of our yellow jacket species. I initially thought was last years nest or older and had died out at the end of the season in which it developed. Yellow jacket nests are seasonal in our climate. pic. Each colony that is successful produces new queens and males in the fall and mated queens hibernate in winter. The following spring they attempt to establish a new colony. They must raise their first brood of workers by themselves, many are not successful. I put this paper nest into my bucket for debris from the tree hollow.
A day later as I was gathering a sample of the debris from the bucket to look for small invertebrates I found a newly emerged yellow jacket males. I was surprised, this was not a totally abandoned nest but was obviously this years and still alive. I carefully collected several but on closer examination found them all to be males. I was relieved because males cannot sting. Like all other males of wasps and bees only females have stingers. Stingers are modified egg laying structurers or ovipositors. I identified them as Dolichovespula arctica pic , the social parasite of Dolichovespula arenaria the aerial yellow jacket whose colony had obviously been taken over sometime last spring.
The female D. arctica finds a colony of D. arenaria in the spring that has produced some workers and kills the arenaria queen. The arenaria workers will then take care of the arctica brood that will be only queens and males. D. arenaria colonies have the potential of becoming fairly large. 200-700 workers with up to 6,500 reported ( Akre, R.D., A. Greene, J.F. MacDonald, P.J. Landholt, and H.G. Davis. 1981. Yellow Jackets of North America North of Mexico, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C. Handbook #552.)
This parasitized nest had 4 comb. The smallest about 2 inches and the third comb maybe 3 inches in diameter were all of reproductive cells pic. Because the reproductives that is the queens and males are larger than workers the cells are also larger. In this situation it appears that the arenaria colony had only raised one or two combs of workers before the arctica queen found the colony. The first two combs were probably used by the original queen to produce workers. The widest comb was about 5 inches diameter. The parasitic queen, arctica, must find a host colony that is not too large so that she can take it over but it must have enough workers to raise several of her offspring.