Identification, Images, & Information
For Insects, Spiders & Their Kin
For the United States & Canada

Species Brachygastra mellifica - Mexican Honey Wasp

UID INSECT - Brachygastra mellifica Mexican Honey Wasp - Brachygastra mellifica Brachygastra mellifica Brachygastra mellifica - female Mexican honey wasps - Brachygastra mellifica Nest of Mexican honey wasp (Brachygastra mellifica) - Brachygastra mellifica Brachygastra mellifica on Conoclinium coelestinum - Brachygastra mellifica - female Brachygastra mellifica feeding on fondant - Brachygastra mellifica
Kingdom Animalia (Animals)
Phylum Arthropoda (Arthropods)
Subphylum Hexapoda (Hexapods)
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Hymenoptera (Ants, Bees, Wasps and Sawflies)
No Taxon (Aculeata - Ants, Bees and Stinging Wasps)
Superfamily Vespoidea (Yellowjackets and Hornets, Paper Wasps; Potter, Mason and Pollen Wasps and allies)
Family Vespidae (Yellowjackets and Hornets, Paper Wasps; Potter, Mason and Pollen Wasps)
Subfamily Polistinae (Paper Wasps)
Genus Brachygastra (Honey Wasps)
Species mellifica (Mexican Honey Wasp)
Other Common Names
Mexican Bee
Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Chartergus arizonaensis Cameron 1907
Explanation of Names
Brachygastra mellifica (Say 1837)
mellifica 'honey making'
7-9 mm
c. TX & s. AZ to Panama (Sugden & McAllen 1994)
Occurs in all but the driest habitats(1)
Nest placement is in the midcanopy of a tree or shrub from 1 to 9 m above ground level. Nests are sparse and difficult to find in native brush but relatively common in suburban settings where they are easily spotted in deciduous trees in winter. (Sugden & McAllen 1994)
Larvae feed on honey(1), and probably also pollen; this is unusual for vespids.
Life Cycle
Eusocial, with worker and reproductive castes. More than one queen per hive, and there are females present with ovaries intermediate in size between workers and queens. Form large colonies by swarming (coordinated groups of queens and workers). Store honey, but do not cap cells, as do bees. Nests are perennial, built in low trees, with as many as 50,000 cells.(2)(3)
One of the very few insects other than bees to produce and store honey.
Comment from Dr. Joan Strassmann, "They are docile a lot, but then they can explode, attacking en masse."
See Also
Pachodynerus nasidens (Eumeninae), has a larger first metasomal segment:
Print References
Hastings, M.D., D.C. Queller, F. Eischen & J.E. Strassmann. 1998. Kin selection, relatedness and worker control of reproduction in a large-colony epiponine wasp, Brachygastra mellifica. Behavioral Ecology, 9(6): 573-581.
Hogue, C. 1993. Latin American Insects and Entomology. University of California Press, Berkeley. xiv + 594 pp. (1)
Naumann, M.G. 1968. A revision of the genus Brachygastra (Hymenoptera: Vespidae). U. Kansas Sci. Bull. 47: 929-1003. (Full Text)
Schwarz, H.F. 1929. Honey wasps. Natural History, 29(4): 421-426.
Sugden, E.A. and R.L. McAllen. 1994. Observations on foraging, population and nest biology of the Mexican honey wasp, Brachygastra mellifica (Say) in Texas (Vespidae: Polybiinae). Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 67(2): 141-155. (JSTOR)
Internet References
Texas Entomology - Mike Quinn
Works Cited
1.Latin American Insects and Entomology
Charles L. Hogue. 1994. University of California Press.
2.The Wasps
Howard Ensign Evans, Mary Jane West Eberhard. 1970. University of Michigan Press.
3.American Insects: A Handbook of the Insects of America North of Mexico
Ross H. Arnett. 2000. CRC Press.