The favourite spot in my garden is under a particular apple tree, which produces crisp, juicy green apples with a wonderful tangy flavour. We often harvest some of this fruit before maturity, since it adds zest to our salads. I stood under the spreading blossom laden branches, when I realised that something was wrong – the soft musical hum of honey bees was missing because there were no honey bees to be seen.

A closure look revealed that my tree had been invaded by mean looking dark chocolate colored wasps, who were busy removing the bark and flying off with it towards some distant destination. I also saw a couple of dead bees in the grass. I picked one up to discover that these had been brutally mangled. It then dawned on me that I was standing in the midst of what had been, a few hours ago, a raging battle ground, where my friends (the bees) had been vanquished by an army of deadly marauders.

With vengeance in my heart, I made a ‘smoke generator’ by igniting some rags wrapped around the end of a stick and waved it around the tree. My satisfaction at seeing the angry pests flee was short lived as they soon returned in greater numbers. I brushed aside the suggestion of using pesticide as it would have killed the blossoms and trudged back to the house with heavy steps. The whole episode nonetheless, aroused my curiosity to learn more about the ancient animosity that existed between the two species within the insect world.

While honey bees will attack when provoked, wasps are by nature the more aggressive predators. The war between the two generally ends with the bees as victors. Wasps or their cousins the hornets, attack beehives, reasons for which are still a matter of research. It is said that wasp attacks are aimed at obtaining food i.e. honey, which may be correct, but what bee keepers know for certain is that whenever wasps manage to ingress a hive they lay eggs inside bee larvae, which become food for the young wasps.

In some parts of the world, honey bees are used to mitigate wasp infestation. In one documented case, honey bees were introduced into the area as an anti-wasp measure. Epic battles later, the bees won, ridding almost the entire neighborhood of the winged predator. Some beekeepers also say that the presence of a queen bee on a premises will deter wasps not to make a colony there.

There are very interesting reports from Japan of ‘to the death’ conflicts between honey bees and giant hornets. The hornets, which can grow up to 1.6 inches (4 centimeters) long have the advantage of size and predatory instincts. The honey bees often repel these attacks by ‘cooking’ the aggressors. Since bee stingers cannot penetrate a hornet’s thick outer skin, the bees swarm around the attacker, forming a spherical ‘bee ball’. They then use their vibrating flight muscles to raise the temperature inside the ‘ball’. The mass of bees can generate heat up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees Celsius) - enough to ‘cook’ and kill the hornet.

It was the day after the apple tree incident that I went to the spot once again and became an eye witness to the amazing power of the honey bee. I have no idea, when the counter attack by my friends began, but I found the grass below littered with dead wasps and some bees. Who had won this war was evident in the fact that the blossoms were alive with honeybees, while there wasn’t a single wasp to be found.

Visitors to my house this spring will find my fruit trees blooming with gay abandon. Amongst this riot of white, pink and pale burgundy, there will be a tree that bears a special significance. It owes its life to a member of the insect family that I have come to respect as a friend – the wonderful and amazing honey bee.