Monday 7th May 2012.
I inspected the honeybee hives in our apiary in North Chingford and discovered a dead hornet stuck in the upper side of the queen guard of one of the hives. The guard is a form of grill that prevents the queen bee from leaving the brood box. Whereas the queen bee cannot move up and out from the brood box this hornet evidently was also not able to move easily through the grill due to its size and/or harrying by the resident worker bees. Some honeybees elsewhere in the world have evolved a defense in which they form a ball of workers around hornets, engulfing and killing them en masse by "asphyxia-balling" – in effect, by heatstroke.
Obviously, the hornet had managed to get right into the hive via the entrance or a large enough hole somewhere about the increasingly weathered and worn out hive. My most immediate reaction though was alarm at the sight of a hornet even if dead. What species of hornet was it?
I am not sufficiently familiar with different species of hornets to be able to identify them readily. Recently I received a National Bee Unit call for vigilance concerning the likelihood of the arrival of the dreaded ‘Asian Hornet’, Vespa velutina. Some weeks ago, in response to that call, I set up hornet traps near the apiary. The traps contain the allure of rotting meat to which carrion eating hornets are attracted. On Monday however the traps had not caught any hornets or much else apart from a few large wasps and lots of little flies languishing in a sickly miasma of fetid corned beef and stale coca cola.
Was the grim discovery of the hornet in the hive the beginning of the end for our bees? If I were to believe newspaper reports I should have been looking to the southern horizon for squadrons of the dastardly critters flying in rapacious formation. I did not panic.
I completed the cull of new queen cells in both hives, a measure intended to prevent swarming, and proceeded to photograph the hornet and then search for a trusty matchbox in which to store the corpse for future reference and examination.
I felt quite the hero of the moment, a sentinel valiantly defending our beleaguered bees, ever ready to clang the online alarm bells of the nation’s beekeepers as well as carry out other grisly undertakings.
And here is the unfortunate visitor. After careful examination back at Beere HQ, I feel confident what I carried back is the less malevolent European Hornet, Vespa crabro.
This illustrated anecdote is intended as an addition to field studies and research into the feasibility of a retail cargo cult on or in Wood Street E17. Various emanations have been executed and others planned; each one an element to inform a Lost and Found in E17 report for Field Report 2012. A recent emanation is ‘Between Man, the birds and the bees’, for Artillery and their project in Edmonton. I have also contributed to Waltham Forest Arts Club’s concluding Turnaround show. The contribution comprises a slow and partial unpacking and unfolding of ‘to MOTHERHOOD from MATERNITY’ – a site specific study of Walthamstow’s eusociality.
Field Study’s Man in E17 will be visiting the Arts Club pop up gallery (pug) again later in May to present, ‘CARRIAGE’, a penetrating or penetrated study of a retail cargo cult space in Wood Street Indoor Market. This may, if you choose to imagine it, involve the services of a nest of hornet stings.
David Dellafiora recently announced the despatch of Field Report 2011 and I hope a Royal Mail delivery note that arrived today is for my copy of the report.