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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A saga of the meat bees

The remains of the hornets nest after the skunk's first visit.

"What's wrong, Silly Boy?"

A bewildered Fred had just slinked into the garage and crawled between the table saw and work bench.  

Yellow jackets were crawling in his coat like raging ninjas, probing for dog hide with their stings.

I dragged him out from his hiding place, slapped the spiteful insects, and stomped them on the floor.

We had coexisted all summer with a nest of "meat bees" next to the house, and I had a hunch that Fred had roused them by scratching a dirt bed near their nest.

Sure enough, they were swarming, and I was their next victim.

Only by peeking around the corner of the house could I survey the ninjas safely.

There was no sign that Fred had been scraping a dirt bed.

Then the ground heaved ominously near the nest entrance.

Was a squadron of killer wasps about to erupt?

The ground lifted several more times, tracing a path away from the nest, and suddenly it dawned on me: 

I had just witnessed a rare event -- subterranean predation!

A mole had torn into the meat bee's underground fortress.

Maybe it had the sweet taste of meat bee larvae on its lips, but this mole was beating a hasty retreat from the yellow warriors.

To prove my supposition, I really should have grabbed a shovel, flipped that mole to the surface, caught it, and taken a picture while fending off the meat bees.

I might have tried it in my youth, but the codger was satisfied to marvel at the image of the mole breast-stroking through dirt with mean-assed meat bees stinging his velvet keister. 

Yes, moles are known to feed on the larvae of underground hornets. The paper mache nest is no defense to a hungry mole that scents a comb of tender wasp larvae.

Anyway, the meat bees had to go, because I wanted to see what the mole had done to the nest.

Neighbor Larry delivered some wasp spray, and the next day I donned my running shoes and zapped the nest entrance.

A few dead wasps littered the ground the morning after, but the ninjas were still coming and going. 

I gamely sprayed again, expecting to excavate the next day.

I was ready to start digging until I heard the menacing hum of meat bees underground. 

I sprayed several more days.

Finally the hive was silent, and I began to scratch away the overlying dirt. 

I found the mole's tunnel, and carefully uncovered the domed gray paper roof of the meat bees' inner sanctum. 

The caress of the rake brought them back to life again! 

It took a full week to annihilate the colony, but the coups d'grace was apparently delivered by a skunk. 

The scene looked like someone had taken a small rototiller to the nest.

I buried the remains of the nest and smoothed the surface, but the skunk dug it up again that night and the next. 

Ah, what a saga . . . Hungry mole attacks nest of meat bees, meat bees mount courageous defense, homeowner and dog become co-lateral damage.

Homeowner vainly wages chemical warfare, and a skunk finishes the job, proving that Old Stinky eradicates meat bees better than moles or the petrochemical industry. 


joellenarnold said...

Wow--good one! I've been watching some wasps constructing a nest near my hot tub...

Woody Meristem said...

And how many yellow jacket stings would it take to kill a mole of the species that sought a meal from the nest? I doubt a mole's furry coat would be thick enough to prevent stings, but since some moles may regularly feed on yellow jacket larvae and pupae perhaps they've evolved a degree of immunity.

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks, Joellen.

I wondered about the same thing, Woody. I thought the wasps might have even "offed" the mole, but there was no dead mole to be found. I know the dog suffers no ill effects from bee sting, but he sure doesn't like it when it happens. Might be the same for moles.

Cindy said...

I've read that some folks pour honey on the ground entrance to wasp nest to attract skunk or raccoon to raid it. I've never tried it. Wasp stings might have other benefits to the mole - maybe . . . https://livingwithinsects.wordpress.com/2015/09/03/wasp-venom-and-cancer/

Camera Trap Codger said...

Thanks, Cindy. That occurred to me as the saga was playing out. Either the skunks wren;t interested, or had overlooked it. Why not add an appetizer? Downside = bears and the law (it ain't legal, though it is a clever way to enlist the help of biological control agents (= Mr Stinky).

Fathernature1959 said...

I wonder if Moles have some sort of a poison immunity like King Snakes?

Anonymous said...

For 30 years I have poured stale chain saw gas down the entrance at night, don't light it!! Any gas will work but seems I have a lot of old gas in cans. They "buzz" a little and then it is quiet! We host at Bucks Lake and they are really bad, I mean really bad this year, some one told me to mix caned cat food and boric acid and leave it out for them, they take it back to the nest and hopefully kill the queen! I'm on week one, it might take 2-3 weeks.

Bay Laurel said...

I wonder if the mole could have sealed the escape tunnel with dirt behind it as it retreated? Maybe it only suffered a couple stings before it made a blockaded escape?