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Observations on Foraging, Population and Nest Biology of the Mexican Honey Wasp, Brachygastra mellifica (Say) in Texas [Vespidae: Polybiinae]

Evan A. Sugden and R. Lowrey McAllen
Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society
Vol. 67, No. 2 (Apr., 1994), pp. 141-155
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25085503
Page Count: 15
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Since scans are not currently available to screen readers, please contact JSTOR User Support for access. We'll provide a PDF copy for your screen reader.
Observations on Foraging, Population and Nest Biology of the Mexican Honey Wasp, Brachygastra mellifica (Say) in Texas [Vespidae: Polybiinae]
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Abstract

Nests and individual behavior of Brachygastra mellifica (Say), a swarm-founding, honey storing, tropical/subtropical polybiine wasp were studied in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Sucrose syrup and water, provided in feeding dishes, were taken readily in a flight cage containing a live nest. Significant differences were observed in various foraging behavior parameters between syrup and water foragers and between food uptake and transport behaviors within these groups. Liquid food appears to be transferred routinely from foragers to nestmates on the nest surface. The latter then take provisions into the nest. Other behaviors regularly observed include guarding and water removal from the nest surface. Larval wax moths were successfully fed to wasps in the flight cage.Wasps from free-flying colonies foraged on a number of common native and exotic flower species for nectar and to collect honeydew from aphids and psyllids. Predation was observed on flower-mining larvae of the weevil Anthonomus aeneolus and on a moth, Alucitidae sp. Robber flies and spiders regularly preyed on adult B. mellifica. Nests were attacked by woodpeckers and probably small mammals that consume brood and honey-containing combs.Nest architecture is phragmocyttarous with combs of zero displacement, originating from a sessile attachment on a limb. Large nests assume a capsule form with downward extension; their lower combs appear as vertically stacked tiers supported at their edges by the envelope and centrally by inter-comb pedestals. Nest-founding swarms with several hundred individuals are capable of building 10-15 cm diameter nests in a few days. Nest placement is in the midcanopy of a tree or shrub from 1 to 9 m above ground level. Nests are sparse and difficult to find in native brush but relatively common in suburban settings where they are easily spotted in deciduous trees in winter.Gas chromatographic analysis of honey samples taken from natural nests confirm that common floral sources such as sunflower and mesquite as well as honeydew provide the material for stored honey. Most of the nectar and honeydew sources examined as B. mellifica-forage are also utilized by honey bees.

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