By: Molly Keck
Mexican honey wasps, Brachygastra mellifica, are social insects that build paper nests in the canopies of trees and shrubs. They are endemic to many parts of Texas and range from Texas to Nicaragua. There are 16 different species of Mexican honey wasps; however, only one species has been reported in Texas.
Mexican honey wasps have a dark colored thorax and head and the abdomen has yellow and dark bands. They are 1/4 to 1/3 of an inch long and are one of the few insects, other than honey bees, that produce and store honey. Colonies can become large, containing up to 18,000 wasps.
Mexican honey wasps, much like honey bees, are considered beneficial insects. They are nectar gatherers, pollinators, and have been known to feed upon harmful insects such as the Asian citrus psyllid which causes greening in citrus. The honey and larvae of the Mexican honey wasp are documented as a delicacy consumed by the Popolocas people of Los Reyes Metzontla, Mexico.
Mexican honey wasps can cause concern when homeowners spot their large basketball- or football-shaped nests attached to the branches of trees. However, the Mexican honey wasp is non aggressive when left undisturbed. Nests are noticed most often when deciduous trees lose their leaves.
Mexican honey wasps have stingers and will use them— especially if the nest is threatened. Nests that are high in trees are usually of no concern to humans unless the nest is disturbed by activities such as trimming tree branches around the nest or spraying the nest with a water hose. In the Rio Grande Valley, Mexican Honey wasp nests in citrus groves need to be removed during harvest time for farm workers safety.
Pest management professionals can remove Mexican honey wasps safely. Homeowners should not attempt to remove a Mexican honey wasp nest unless they have some experience with bees and wasps and protective equipment such as a good bee suit. A properly fitted and well maintained suit is important as Mexican honey wasps can sting through bee suits that are too tight. They can also enter through tears and loose openings in a bee suit that honey- bees cannot.
Remove nests that are close to the ground, around schools or daycares, and other areas where children, workers or others may come in close contact with them. Nests in tree canopies that are away from human interaction can often be left and will usually go unnoticed.
Thanks to Wizzie Brown, Danielle Sekula-Ortiz, and Raul Villanueva for review of this manuscript.
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