Cousins are great architects

Cousins are great natural architects

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RELATED: Bees and wasps are closely related and share many traits, evolving together millions of years ago.

RELATED: Bees and wasps are closely related and share many traits, evolving together millions of years ago.

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Wasps and bees are both magnificent natural architects and have many other traits in common too.

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Do you have difficulty distinguishing bees and wasps? Many people do.

A beekeeper called to collect a swarm of bees from a householder's front fence found a beautiful little flying saucer hanging there - a paper wasp's nest.

Sadly, this architectural masterpiece of nature had to be destroyed.

Wasps do look like bees, and in fact they are cousins, evolving together millions of years ago.

With the rise of flowering plants (Angiosperms) as the dominant plant they parted company some 40 million years ago, the bees becoming almost entirely vegetarian, feeding on nectar and pollen, while the wasps remained carnivorous eating grubs and other insects.

Both became magnificent architects, the bees with their honeycombs and perfect hexagonal cells, and the wasps with their perfect little round flying saucer-like nests.

Bees developed the anatomical structures for their lifestyle - long tongues to suck up nectar from flowers, branched body hairs to collect nectar and little baskets on their back legs to transport it to their hives.

Internally, of course, they developed the chemical means of turning nectar into honey and making wax from pollen.

Bees and wasps still have much in common, notably their ability to sting and their striped body colouring.

The sting is, of course, their defence mechanism, but why is it that only female workers sting? And sting with their tails, not biting with mouth parts?

Evidence from fossils over 40 million years ago suggests that the sting was once combined with the ovipositor with which the female insect lays her egg.

Some actually used the sharp instrument to poke the egg inside the larva of another insect, and then used the sting to kill the host so her larva which hatched from the egg could feed on the dead body of the host larva. A sort of macabre insect cuckoo.

There is a difference between wasp and bee stings.

The bee can sting only once because her stinger is barbed and she cannot pull it out of the skin.

She pulls and pulls till her bottom together with the poison sac comes off and stays in the victim continuing to unload its venom till the sac is empty.

So if you are stung by a bee, flick that sting off immediately to reduce the dose, the pain and its other effects.

The queen bee also has a sting but rarely stings the beekeeper, and if she does sting she will not die because her sting is not barbed and she can pull it out.

She uses it to fight and kill rival queens for there can only be one to a colony.

Wasp stings are not barbed. They can sting multiple times, and they do!

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