[Tweeters] more insect inquiries

Danver Hartop dan at hartop.com
Fri Aug 22 08:47:21 PDT 2014

When I lived in California I used to love to watch the Say's Phoebes darting around catching bees. At first I was intrigued by their aerial maneuvers thinking they were catching flies and such. After grabbing my telephoto lens, I caught one sitting on a roof with what was clearly a bee. Their beak is long enough to hold it securely, and they would sometimes wipe against something. Between them squishing with their beak, and wiping it, im sure they kill it before swallowing. They would also hold it in their mouth for quite some time.

The one thing I couldn't determine was if there was more to all their darting in the sky, like perhaps to line up a certain wat. For the few I managed to see sitting with a bee, the bee always seemed to be sideways in their beak, so perhaps they always perform a side attack? It did seem to be their favorite, because I don't ever recall seeing them with other insects in their mouth. A quick search seems to confirm this as their dietary first choice.

Danver Hartop
dan at hartop.com

-----Original Message-----
From: "Kelly Cassidy" <highsteppe at icloud.com>
Sent: ‎8/‎22/‎2014 7:59 AM
To: "Barbara Deihl" <barbdeihl at comcast.net>
Cc: "Tweeters at u.washington.edu" <Tweeters at u.washington.edu>
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] more insect inquiries

I'd heard some time ago (don't remember the source) that House Wrens eat wasps. I did a web search after your post, however, and the information I found suggested that wasps are a very small part of House Wren diet, but ran across a few tidbits of info suggesting that titmice eat a fair number of wasps.

That said, at our place among the wheat fields south of Pullman, there seems to be an inverse correlation between House Wrens and wasps. In years in which we have a nesting pair of House Wrens, my impression is of fewer wasps. This year, I'm fairly certain there were 2 nesting pairs (unless the females also sing; I heard 2 wrens singing from opposite ends of the yard during much of spring). We've had very few paper wasps or yellow jackets (not sure which) this year. Coincidence?

I presume that many birds that prey on stinging insects make their attacks on cool mornings when the insects move slowly. Or perhaps the tiny quick-moving birds like House Wrens and titmice can move quickly enough to outmaneuver the insects.

Kelly Cassidy
Pullman, WA

On Aug 17, 2014, at 1:57 PM, Barbara Deihl <barbdeihl at comcast.net> wrote:

This time my questions are the following:

Do any birds or mammals routinely eat wasps and bees ? - I've heard that the larvae are sweet tasting, but it seems the flying adults would give them quite a 'zing on the wing' or cause quite a 'yowl on the prowl', and not be very tasty or worth the pain... Yes, I've seen Merlins snap at (and perhaps swallow )a yellowjacket, but don't know if they do it more than once, when they are curious juveniles. Quick learning curve? Do most of the mammals that go for the honeycomb nest structures, just have 'thick skin' or fur, and put up with the stings and bites, in order to savor the sweet, heavenly ambrosia?

Wasp and bee venom - I just read an article (OK, it was just 'on the internet' and from no acclaimed scientific source). The article (URL below - you'll probably have to copy & paste it into your browser). The article concerns bee venom research and states that early tests on it show some promise for treating a couple types of cancer (examples given are melanoma and breast cancer).


This on the heels of an experience I just had on Friday, when a neighbor-referred wasp eradicator (no poisons used, just a vacuum tube and dry ice) came by to liberate some nesting yellowjackets from one of the eaves on my house. This fellow not only employed an excellent technique, but, instead of tossing the spent little bodies of the wasps in the yard waste or compost heap, he has a working agreement with some wasp-venom researchers, and sends them the dead wasps for their research. Seems like a good way to re-use these helpful, but sometimes pesky and poke-y insects. A win-win-lose-win situation (the wasps, of course, get an untimely death, even though they would die eventually by fall).

Here's a link to some photos with an introductory story, about this event we had over at the Barboretum that calm afternoon!


I did ask WaspMan the question I started this post with - his answer was that raccoons and crows have been known to tear apart the big paper nests in late summer/early fall, to feast on the yummy contents within. This guy isn't a schooled naturalist, but certainly has observed a lot about Vespids since his start trapping them in 1986. Some of you more scientifically/naturalistically-oriented folks likely have a few answers and anecdotes to add to this. Again, either post on Tweeters or send to me off-list, or both. This reminds me that I have more anecdotes from a Tweet or 2 to add to the Merlin/dragonfly thread - will share them soon.

And to all of you who dredged up memories or articles or thoughts about raptors and dragonflies and eating on the wing, THANKS !

Barb Deihl
Matthews Beach Neighborhood - NE Seattle
barbdeihl at comcast.net

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