Brachygastra mellifica, commonly known as the Mexican Honey Wasp, is a small Neotropical paper wasp that is distributed from southern Texas and extreme southeastern Arizona in the United States south through Mexico and Central America. The specific name means "honey-making," and this species is well known as one of the very few insects other than bees to produce and store honey. It is a dark wasp with some yellow bands on the abdomen, and very fine, slightly shining golden-brown pubescence on the body. They are 7-9 millimeters in length and have less hair than the Western Honeybee. Similar to the Honeybee, the Mexican Honey Wasp is one of the few wasps that produce honey. Although they are honey producers, many people do not eat wasp honey because it can sometimes be toxic if the wasps harvest nectar and pollen from Datura plants.
The Brachygastra mellifica’s nests are constructed out of paper, placed among the branches of trees and shrubs, and measure 40–50 cm (1.3–1.6 ft) in diameter when mature. They can house anywhere from 3,000 to over 18,000 mellificas. Of those, 3,000 will be queens and the rest will be workers. These workers are often aggressive and their sting can be quite painful. The nest has 10 or more layers of horizontal honeycombed cells within the outer envelope. These combs are very shallow for storing honey that wasps produce by concentrating nectar. This honey is used to feed the larvae and is their primary food source. Mexican Honey Wasps often build their nests on trees 1 to 9 meters off the ground. The nest of the honey wasp is small; the size of a football, but it can become large, like the size of a duffel bag. After three or four years, the colony leaves their home.
The Vespidae Family
The Barchygastra mellifica is part of the Vespidae family. This family is made up of almost 5,000 difference species. The female wasps are known for their aggressive nature when near their nests. The worker wasps are sterile and smaller than the queen. Male wasps are produced towards the end of summer and egg-laying females are produced in the winter. The Vespidae family is located, predominantly, in Mexico and Central America. Fifty-five species have established themselves in the United States; amongst them is the Brachygastra mellifica species.
Honey Bee and the Mexican Honey Wasp
It is easy to distinguish the Mexican Honey Wasp from a Honey Bee because wasps are smooth, and small. They are very tame and calm, however they will sting if they sense an attack on their nest. Wasps attack as a colony to defend their territory. A bee can sting only once and dies, while the Wasp can continue to string several times. Only the female wasp has a stinger. Bees are pollinators; they move pollen from one flower to another to accomplish fertilization. To collect pollen, bees rub against the anthers of the flower and store the pollen on their hind legs and transfer them to other flowers. The Honey Wasp is the one of the very few Wasps that collects honey. This does not mean that their occupation is to collect honey and pollinate, rather, their main focus is to keep the queen safe. They prey on other insects as source of food. The Honey wasp colony is made up of about 3,000 wasps while the beehive can house up to 50,000 individuals. The Honey Wasp is a social wasp and lives in an organized society. They communicate through chemicals to notify each other of available food or to warn others of an intruder.
The Brachygastra Mellifica Community
Like all advanced eusocial hymenoptera, community of B. mellifca consist predominantly of sterile female workers with far fewer reproductive male drones and reproductive queens. Of some note is the uncommonly large number of fertilized queens often found to number in the hundreds in B. mellifica colonies. The high relatedness of such queens may indicate that such queens are only produced in the colonies life cycle when for a short time the colony has just a single queen. Colonies with a single queen have not been reported, indicating that if such a condition exists that it is a short lived period in the colonies life cycle.
Brachygastra Mellifica as Avocado Pollinators
The Brachygastra Mellifica is one of the most efficient Avocado pollinators. A study performed by G. Ish-Am1, F. Barrientos-Priego, A. Castañeda-Vildozola, and S. Gazit, showed that wasps often collect honey to feed to their larvae. It has been recorded that these wasps were founded near Avocado blooms in high densities carrying Avocado pollen on their heads and legs. There have been various sitings of this pollinator on Avocado blooms throughout Mexico. Out of all the insects that were tested in this study, the Brachygastra mellicica is, by far, one of the best Avocado pollinators.
Brachygastra Mellifica Attacks
The Brachygastra Mellifica is generally a calm wasp unless their nest is threatened. It has been reported that the Brachygastra mellifica has been seen to attack D. citri nymphs, a sap-sucking, hemipteran bug in the family Psyllida, on new flushes of citris. When there is a new batch of citris, the wasps quickly scower the area preying on any cirit that they find. Every thirty seconds, the mellifica consumes a nymph. When a swarm of mellifica attacks a batch of Diaphorina citri, thirty-one nymphs are consumed in sixteen minutes Link to attack. Citri is one of the most important pests of citrus and has been shown to be one of the worst citrus diseases. Many believe that the Brachygastra mellifica would be excellent control agent against D. citri nymphs.
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