Hornets are pollinators too!

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This morning I spent a very pleasant couple of hours walking around the farm that’s at the heart of the Warner Edwards Gin Distillery, in Harrington just north of Northampton.  We are setting up some collaborations around conservation and sustainability between the university and Warner Edwards.  The first of these involves surveys of their farm by one of our final year undergraduates, Ellie West, to assess pollinator diversity and abundance, and opportunities for habitat enhancement on the farm.

One of the highlights of this morning’s visit was seeing this gorgeous hornet (Vespa crabro) taking nectar from common ivy (Hedera helix).  I think that she’s a queen stocking up on energy prior to hibernating.  But just look at how much pollen she’s carrying!  There’s every chance that she’s a very effective pollinator of ivy, which is a key nectar resource at this time of year.  It’s such an important plant in other ways too: ivy binds the landscape physically and ecologically, in ways few other native plants do.  Pollination by insects such as hornets (and hundreds of other species) results in berries that are eaten by birds and mammals, whilst the branches and dense, evergreen canopy provides nesting sites for birds and shelter for over wintering insects.

Hornets and ivy: two of my favourite native British species.

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9 Comments

Filed under Biodiversity, Birds, Mammals, Pollination, University of Northampton, Wasps

9 responses to “Hornets are pollinators too!

  1. Yes! So true! Hornets are so often demonised, yet like all native organisms in their native habitat, have such important ecological roles. Fab post. 🙂

    -Emma

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I had a close encounter with a hornet the other day. I was picking apples and unbeknownst to me there was a hornet on the far side of an apple I had stretched up to pick. It dropped off, onto my face then bounced down into my clothing. I lent forward and flapped my shirt a bit. After some time it eventually emerged out the bottom. The important thing is that we both behaved like grownups and nobody was hurt.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. Sadly, in the US, “English” ivy is heavily overused and has become invasive in many areas, to the detriment of our North American native vines which can be quite stunning. I work with St. Louis Audubon to help homeowners increase the biodiversity and habitat value by replacing introduced (and sometimes invasive) species with local natives. Is “common ivy” truly native to U.K. or has is been naturalized…oops, I meant naturalised? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s a thug in the wrong place. Good question. As far as we know it’s native. The seeds are readily dispersed by birds, some of which are migratory in northern Europe, so the seeds likely get spread a long distance.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Two of my favourites too. I used to see an old pear tree covered in ivy from my window, and could watch all the many comings and goings into the foliage year round. From the dozens of wood pigeons performing crazy acrobatics to get at every berry no matter how thin the twigs, during the Winter, to the nesting blue tits and hiding chiffchaffs in Spring, and the sonorous hum from all the pollinating bees, wasps, and hoverflies, and flies in general in the Autumn. Most spectacular were the hornets, and the Red Admirals, that sometimes covered the whole tree like Christmas decorations. Quite a site to see. I imagined the butterflies must have had that tree marked as a gathering spot for many generations, and it certainly brought home to me how much untold damage can be done with one thoughtless attempt to tidy up or ‘make a tree safe’ from a plant which is actually the perfect companion for deciduous trees, and almost the only natural year round shelter for UK wildlife.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, beautifully expressed! You’re right, there’s not many large, dense-leaved, evergreen plants that provide such shelter native to the the UK. Off the top of my head, holly and box come to mind, but they are not as abundant as ivy.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mistletoe can get pretty dense in some trees too, but I don’t know about its pollination. It’s only from it’s tendency to make very round balls that enables one to tell it from rookeries at a distance, but many a country estate drive is lined with trees that are packed with it (I often wondered if estate trees were deliberately seeded with it, as often, there is no more once outside the walls, though trees there may look just as good.).

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      • Yes, that’s true, it can be dense. Mistletoe is insect pollinated (small bees, flies) etc. and has separate male and female individuals. It’s quite often found in dense aggregations because of the way the seeds are dispersed; they often become stuck to a bird’s beak so the bird scrapes it off on a nearby branch.

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