Bee Wolfs in Wanstead Park

The Bee-killer wasp or Bee Wolf is a quite dramatic creatures, known locally from around Alexandra Lake and recently seen near Jubilee Pond, but one of the easiest places to see them is near the refreshment kiosk in Wanstead Park. Whilst visitors sit in the sun sipping their tea or licking their ice-creams, the Bee Wolfs may be bringing their prey back to their nests very nearby.

The Bee Wolf Philanthus triangulum is the common European member of the genus Philanthus, of which there are about 170 species. It is a solitary wasp which preys typically on honey bees. It stings them to paralyse them, then carries its prey back to its tunneled nest slung underneath its body.

Bee Wolf Philanthus triangulumThe nest hole may be up to a metre long, with numerous side tunnels branching off which end in a brood chamber, each of which contains one of the prey. On the Plain, the nests are in dusty soil with little or no vegetation, and after entering the hole the Bee Wolf closes it by pushing soil into the opening, using a digging motion with the soil being aimed backwards, much like a dog may do.

I deliberately set out to try to photograph or film these creatures at the end of July, and on a very hot 29th - when there really was a lot of ice-cream licking going on - I spotted some activity and began to film it. In this case, I didn't see the carrying of the prey into the nest-hole, but saw the "door" being opened from the inside, and the Bee Wolf emerging. Turning back to face the entrance, it appeared that it might be clearing something out from inside, although I couldn't make out anything other than soil. It proceeded to throw the soil backwards, away from the nest hole, for some minutes before re-entering the hole.

Crouching to get a video record, I was aware that some children had paused and were asking each other what I was doing, but I couldn't move as I was using the camera hand-held. However, after the wasp had re-entered its nest, I asked the three children who had stopped if they had seen it. They acknowledged that they'd been watching the wasp, and asked what it was. By the time I'd got into the explanation there was quite a little gathering of mums and children, seemingly fascinated that such goings on were happening all around them.

The video is available here.

Paul Ferris, 6th August 2011