Oh Death, Where is Thy Sting?

Insect Drill Rig Mining for a Nursery
Image by fred1st via Flickr

As a follow-up to the recent Press piece and blog post about the state of the honeybee:

Someone in church had read about the topic in my column. He had one hive. All his bees disappeared without a trace, he told me, after my limited survey of a few beekeepers I know showed a low impact of Colony Collapse Disorder among Floyd County’s hives.

But he also made the observation that some time this summer, in June or July, he noticed all the paper wasps disappeared out his outbuildings. And so did the mud daubers. And he said he didn’t have any problem with yellow jackets this year, which is very unusual.

As I thought back over my observations of the bees and wasps this summer, as I said, I saw far more honeybees. But we also had a large paper wasp nest in our shed, covered early with a few dozen wasps. Well before it should have been abandoned by the adults, the nest was free of wasps. I looked for a mud daubers nest in early July to show the grand daughters the spiders inside; there were none where we usually have many.

And this is the first summer in living memory I did not get stung even once by yellow jackets. We never found hives in the pasture to avoid in our walks–not a one.

I wrote earlier about the decline in swallowtail populations this summer, and many people locally and at a distance had similar experience. This could all be local cycles or the power of suggestion.

What do you think?

Related: Floyd County’s Gunther Hauk on Saving the Honey Bee – YouTube

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I had only a handful of mud dauber nests to remove from the mortar around the brick on my house this fall, and I rarely see honeybees anymore. Wasps seemed about the same. But all the yellow jackets everyone else was missing this summer must have been at our place. At our rental property next door, yellow jackets built a nest in the attic that fell through the sheet-rocked and plastered ceiling into the bedroom. I’ve never seen anything like it before. It was like a horror movie. At that same property, there was a yellow jacket nest as big as a basketball in the crawlspace under the house. We felt like we battled the little beasts all summer long.

  2. I had mud daubers and yellow jackets around me this summer, big healthy nests. I must admit to destroying a yellow jacket nest in the path to the pond and a big paper wasp nest next to the same path. We were all getting stung too much.

  3. Whatever it is, Fred, it’s rather distressing. Living here in the city, I’m not as attuned to changes in insect populations as you are, but I have definitely noticed the near-total absence of honey bees in the spring and summer. And it’s not like there aren’t plenty of flowers for them to gather nectar. I wish I knew what’s going on.