bees, honey and other sticky subjects

Thursday, September 30, 2004

Honey licked in animal cruelty shock

Penthouse model Kader Loth has had honey licked off her body in the German version of a reality TV show I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out Of Here. And it has sparked animal cruelty allegations against the show's makers and demands that the programme be taken off air. A turkey has already been slaughtered on the show, and there were also plans to sacrifice a pig.

The goat has yet to lodge a complaint.

UPDATE 1 Oct 2004: a nice piece of web research by Rufus reveals that there is a Childhood Goat Trauma Foundation to protect kids (sorry, children) from goat-related petting zoo nightmares. The tables have now been turned however with the German Animal Protection Federation taking a stand to safeguard goats' wellbeing.

“Do you get stung?”

“Do you get stung?” -- the most-asked question of any beekeeper. Well, another blogger has displayed the evidence.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Killer bees on 5

I shuddered when a friend texted me that Channel 5 (the UK's lowest common demoninator terrestrial TV station) was to air Killer Bee Attack tonight. But I shouldn't have worried. Apart from gratuitous use of the word “killer”, the programme was actually quite educational. There were at least two new aspects I hadn't realised.

Africanized bees often give a warning not to get any closer. A few bees appear to patrol about 30 metres from the nest and head butt any potential intruders. They don't sting; they just bounce off the intruder's body giving notice of their presence. Come to think of it, my own bees do something similar sometimes, hovering in front of my veil having a good, but threatening look.

An Arizonan bee catcher thought that the Africanized bees in his state are less defensive than in the past. He put this down to (un)natural selection. Any bees involved in a serious bee attack are systematically destroyed. So, in effect, the most defensive genes are culled.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Chemical warfare or bee poo?

The 2004 winner of the Laskers Special Achievement in Medical Science, Matthew Meselson, has a special claim to fame for beekeepers. An advocate against chemical and biological since 1963, he debunked the theory in the 1980s that the Soviets were contaminating crops in Southeast Asia by proving that the supposed “yellow rain” was actually honeybee droppings.

“Master killer-beekeeper”

The shorthand of journalist Romano Cedillus has produced a rather interesting occupation: master killer-beekeeper. What he means is a beekeeper whose charges are Africanized bees.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Oxfam Unwrapped -- a Christmas cracker

Oxfam are offering people the chance to buy a Christmas present for someone in the developing world. One of the gifts is a beehive with bees -- cost £84 (about $150). The initiative, called Oxfam Unwrapped, hopes to raise £1.5m by the end of the year. Other gifts range from two radios (£10) and two mosquito nets (£15) right up to a 45,000 litre water tank (£2160).

A 32-page catalogue containing the gift ideas is online at Oxfam stores will also have four specific gift vouchers for sale.

The Russians are coming

As I've mentioned before (with some of the genetic details), there is ongoing research at USDA in Baton Rouge, Mississippi, USA into using Russian bee genes in an attempt to combat varroa. In one of the longest paragraphs I have ever read, is a bit more of the story of what they are doing.
Russian bees suffer only a third to half of the mites that plague Italian hives, Rinderer said, and the new lines have enabled some beekeepers in New York to forego using chemicals to control mites... “I’m going without chemical treatment on the Russian hives I have,” said Harper, vice president of the Louisiana Beekeepers Association. Harper sells Russian breeder queens to other queen bee breeders. This year he shipped queens to New York, California, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, both Carolinas and Georgia.
The origin of the Russian bees is interesting:
After the USSR was formed, the Primorsky naval port of Vladivostok was closed to outsiders because of its military activities there, Rinderer said, but military officers assigned to the seaport enjoyed beekeeping as a hobby. After the USSR collapsed, Rinderer ventured to Primorsky to explore the possibility of bringing Russian honey bees to the United States as a possible solution to the varroa problem. The Primorsky beekeepers didn’t seem to be worried about the mite problem, Rinderer said... But getting the honey bees from Russia to Rinderer’s lab in Baton Rouge wasn’t a casual endeavor. “It took two years just to get bees in Vladivostok to a bee yard here,” he said.
As are their habits in Louisiana:
“They’re a different bee,” Rinderer said. “They look pathetic in the springtime.” After winter, the colony is small -- with no brood being produced until late spring, he explained. “They look like they’re on the verge of death.” The Russians aren’t fooled by the sudden warm-ups of Louisiana’s early spring, he said, but once the pollen flow begins, the Russian bees shift into high gear. “They sit back until it’s obvious spring is here,” Rinderer said.


Final inspection -- bees, hornet & wasps

This weekend I performed my final full inspection of my bees for the season. Just one more visit to remove the Apistan varroa control and that will be it until next March -- apart from occasional visits to make sure the colonies haven't blown over in a winter gale, have enough winter stores (occasional hefting to test the weight) and haven't been aggravated by woodpeckers hammering on the wall.

Everything looked good. Despite a poor honey harvest, there were plenty of stores and plenty of bees with no visible signs of disease.

I united four colonies into two and had a real treat in the process. I put a sheet of newspaper over one colony (this stops bees from each colony mingling too quickly and therefore decreases the risk of a pitched battle) and as I turned back to put the second colony on top I saw a rare sight. Sitting boldly on the newspaper was an enormous hornet (Vespa crabro), a real beauty. This is only the second hornet I've seen at close quarters. It was an impressive beast. At more than 4cm long, it looked enormous alongside the bees (who paid it no attention). Hornets are quite rare in Britain and are mostly found in wooded areas in Southern England. They are greatly feared although I have yet to meet anyone who has been stung by one.

I also united two small nucleii (very small colonies). I couldn't separate them by newspaper because of their size, so I just had to take my chances by putting the stronger colony in the centre with the weaker colony either side. I watched for a while and no fighting ensued. But they were curious about each other and there was a great probosces inspection going on. I probably got away with it because it was such a good day with pollen coming in great quantity. The older girls were mostly out foraging and weren't at home to create a riot.

A nearby beekeeper hasn't been as fortunate as me. He has lost all his bees and has blamed wasps (Vespula vulgaris) for robbing them out. I suspect he had very weak colonies which enabled wasps to gain the upper hand. I've yet to see a healthy colony succomb to wasps.


Friday, September 24, 2004

Honey trafficking?

Nepal is to export 300 tonnes of honey to India “for separate shipment to other countries”. Is it really Nepalese honey?

Thursday, September 23, 2004

“Throw that veil away and get you a bee suit”

With noticeably more aggressive bees in Wichita Falls, Texas, the Red River Valley Beekeepers Association are taking more precautions:
“I just spent another $100 to get me another suit because I'm scared of those things,” Bennie Watson, association president, said, zipping into a suit with more reinforcements. “I'm not going to take any chances.”

“Throw that veil away and get you a bee suit,” he advised members.
Hybridized bees, reported to be not fully Africanized bees, today killed an emu near the town.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

A feast of bees

For UK readers and international gad-abouts, I think a plug for some interesting bee talks organized by the Central Association of Bee-Keepers is in order. You need to be a member (cheap!), book a place and pay a very reasonable fee:

Thursday 21st October 2004
Social Evening, Wax Chandlers Hall, City of London:
Oliver Field, Field Honey Farms: Beekeeping in Mongolia and China. Including buffet supper.
Update: short report on the meeting.

Friday 19th November 2004 - Sunday 21st November 2004
Autumn Weekend Conference, The Falcon Hotel, Stratford upon Avon:
Albert Knight, Bee Improvement and Bee Breeders' Association: A rational approach to the honey bees of Britain.
Dr Robert Paxton, Queens University Belfast: Cooperation and conflict in bee societies and Conservation genetics of Irish bees.
Prof Ted Benton, Essex: Bumble bees.
Dr Gavin Ramsay, Scottish Crops Research Institute: Pollinators and gene flow.
Teresa Santillan-Galicia, Rothamsted: Interactions between honey bees, Varroa destructor and viruses.

For further details email


Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Bee limericks

There's not much bee news on the go this week, so I thought I'd ferret out a few bee Limericks. There is a nice selection on Here are two from famous people. Beekeepers will not be surprised to learn that both refer to stings.
There was an old man in a tree
Who was horribly bored by a bee
When they said, “Does it buzz?”
He replied, “Yes, it does!
It's a regular brute of a bee!”
Edward Lear

There was an old man of St Bees
Who was horribly stung by a wasp
When they said, “does it hurt?”
He replied, “no, it doesn’t –
It’s a good job it wasn’t a hornet”.
WS Gilbert (after Lear)

Here's another, collected by James Bryant:

Concerning the bees and the flowers
In the fields and the gardens and bowers,
You will note at a glance
That their ways of romance
Haven't any resemblance to ours.

James has some really good ribald ones on his site, too. I especially like the one about the young man from Aberystwyth.


Africanized bees have now reached a new most northerly point in the USA -- Tipton, Oklahoma. The bees were found by workmen chopping down a tree and DNA tests by USDA confirmed that they were Africanized bees.
“We all ran different directions to the vehicles, and they followed us. There were just so many of them,” said Jeff Marshall, a city worker who was stung between 35 and 40 times.
The first reported point of entry of Africanized bees was Texas in 1990. Since then they have also been detected in New Mexico, California, Nevada and Arizona.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Bad hair day

Here's a story from Ghanaweb that may make beekeepers giggle, so I've included it in its entirety:
Aflao, Sept 19, GNA -- A swarm of bees on Saturday descended on the venue of the durbar for the inauguration of the Aflao branch of the Ghana Hairdressers and Beauticians Association (GHABA) of the Industrial and Commercial Workers Union (ICU) of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) at Aflao, disrupting the function for about half an hour.

Some of the dignitaries and members of the association including the mistresses and the apprentices moved from their seats seeking cover and some repeatedly beat away the poisonous insects with copies of the programme and handkerchiefs.

Many believed the exotic chemicals used in the beautiful and the complex hairdos members wore and the strong perfumes they used might have attracted the bees.

The insect catcher

There's a rather good set of photos of hornets and a hornets' nest in an article about a teacher who is a part-time catcher of insects which he sells to pharmaceutical companies. Unfortunately, there is at least one howler in the article, but generally it's pretty good:
Unlike honeybees — which are equally social, but which feed on pollen to make honey ...

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Stockbridge Beekeeping Supplies

In Britain, we are lucky to have some excellent beekeeping shops and a choice from a number of suppliers. Today, I went to Stockbridge Beekeeping Supplies in Hampshire to buy some equipment. Next Saturday (25 September) the shop will host its annual Open Day with special discounts and a programme of talks from some beekeeping experts including John Cossburn, a beefarmer and one of the best bee talkers around.

Lyn of Stockbridge Beekeeping Supplies in the heart of Hampshire. She will supply equipment and all the bits and bobs all over the country if you can't make it to her shop. Posted by Hello

Hive parts of all shapes and sizes. In the UK, the National Hive is probably the most popular, but in Hampshire there are plenty of Langstroths, some Commercials, Smiths, Dadants and even WBCs (the classic white double-walled garden hive for the very determined and the very stubborn). Posted by Hello

A selection of mostly local honeys and bee products.
 Posted by Hello

Peter leaves Stockbridge Beekeeping Supplies with jars to bottle this year's harvest. Posted by Hello

Bloggin' bees

Bee metaphors are found everywhere -- even in the obscure world of blogging. On, Brooks A Mick says he is working towards a theory of blogging:
But there is another feature of the weblog information network that has not been given its rightful due ... the person who flits from one web site, one web log, to another, taking bits of information from one and posting it, cross-pollinating as it were. This person might be termed a “web honeybee”.

And lastly, we have the “encyclopedic synthesist”, the person who has the array of general knowledge to be able to buzz from weblog to weblog and take the disparate bits of knowledge and synthesize them into a meaningful whole. Do we have enough of these people? This person is not a super-bee. But what is the proper natural-world analogy for such a person? I don't yet have such.

I've suggested to Mr Mick that perhaps his natural world analogy is still in the bee world: maybe it's a drone! A drone, the male bee, does sod-all for his life except drift from hive to hive in the hope that one day he'll do something useful and fertilise a queen. The odds of being a useful drone are very, very slight -- and, if he does happen to be successful, he'll die straight after his one useful piece of work.

Friday, September 17, 2004

Tasmanian beekeepers seek sweet reassurance

Tasmanian beekeepers are trying to raise the issue of bees and leatherwood trees in their election campaign. Leatherwood eucalyptus trees produce one of the world's great honeys.
“We've found [leatherwood trees] still being felled and we're not getting the secure resource that we need now,” said beekeeper Shirley Stevens.
Meanwhile the Prime Minister, John Howard, feels other pressures:
“It's a difficult issue, there are a lot of people who would like to see old-growth logging stopped, I guess I would, but I'm not willing to sacrifice the jobs of Tasmanian timber workers or local communities,” he said.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Just out: The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us

It's hot off the presses in the UK: Bee Wilson's book The Hive: The Story of the Honeybee and Us. I mentioned it earlier, it's reviewed in yesterday's Daily Telegraph, and you can buy it here and doubtless from any good beekeeping book stockist.

UPDATE 17/9/04: Yesterday The Economist magazine published an interesting review. BTW, would the Economist journalist who had a peek at this blog like to leave a comment? In the words of Mrs Doyle: “Ah, go on. Go on, go on, go on ...”
UPDATE 17/9/04: I've just noticed that The Economist has in fact provided a link to Propolis. Thank you! Posted by Hello

Widening split over Kiwi varroa strategy

Beekeepers in New Zealand's South Island are split over the strategy recently put in place to try to delay the spread of varroa from the North Island.

Marlborough beekeepers (at the top of North Island at the heart of New Zealand's wineries) say that the new strategy will cost too much and be ineffective. There are too many feral colonies in teh area and eradication of these if varroa is found in the vicinity will be virtually impossible.
“... in Marlborough, costwise, it's hard to justify, because we don't want it. It would be 50 cents a hive for what we wanted, compared to the $2 a hive we have to pay now,” said Marlborough commercial beekeeper Darren Clifford.

Ironically, wearing his other, Federated Farmers Bee Industry Group Executive, hat, Clifford feels he must support the new strategy!

Meanwhile, Canterbury beekeepers (a plains area further south) believe they have a lot of areas where eradication could be successful, and are strongly supporting a heavier surveillance programme.

The question I have is: What are the relative costs of trying to keep varroa out and just accepting it will arrive sometime and starting treatment regimes ASAP.


The been and gone scent

I've just come across a researcher not a million miles from here with two (OK, just one) interesting research areas: the behaviour and ecology of bumblebees, and the control of houseflies around landfill sites.

Dr Dave Goulson
at Southampton University is speciallly interested in sustaining the population of bumble bees and in studying their foraging habits.
One interesting discovery has been the importance of volatile scent marks (deposited during flower visits) which enable foragers to avoid flowers that have recently been emptied of rewards. This behaviour appears to be widespread across bee species, but has previously been largely overlooked. We have identified the compounds used in bumblebees (which vary between species), and shown that they work across species. I am currently examining various aspects of this behaviour, particularly the role of these marks in mediating interspecific interactions.
Och Dave, you were communicating so well there until those last three words!

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Sweet penalties

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is this week and honey is a big part of the festival (see earlier story). As part of the celebrations, Israeli traffic police will give small jars of honey to motorists stopped for committing minor offences instead of issuing a summons. Police hope that the honey accompanied by an explanation may result in better road behaviour.

Varroa wars

There's an intriguing throw-away line about a topic in an upcoming symposium this week in New Zealand: “biocontrol of varroa mites using a competing strain of varroa”.


Monday, September 13, 2004

Cuban beekeepers await Ivan

As Hurricane Ivan, one of the largest storms on record in the Caribbean, moves on to Cuba amd the Yucatan in Mexico, spare a thought for those resourceful people and their beekeepers. Bees are very important to both economies and in Cuba it looked like it was going to be a bumper year for honey. I hope they have gathered the harvest. Still, Fidel is in grateful mood:
“It's going through the channel [between Cuba and Mexico]. That's very courteous. I'm more optimistic now, and glad the country has been spared great expenses,” President Fidel Castro said on a tour of Pinar del Rio in western Cuba as winds downed trees and traffic lights.
Another big beekeeping area, Mexico's Yucatan is also on alert. Only last month the winds of hurricane Frances cost an estimated $2 billion damage to Florida's agriculture and beekeeping.

UPDATE 14 September: Last night, the eye of Ivan did indeed travel through the channel between Cuba and Mexico and reported damage is much less than feared. I bet a few beehives were knocked over though. Next port of call: the southern United States.

Conspiratorial buzz

There's nothing like a good conspiracy story and I've found a whole website devoted to them and their like: There's even one about honey:
I've been hearing many good things about honey. How it heals many parts of you, whether ingested or used externaly. I also heard that no bacteria/germs can live in honey. I've been eating natural raw honey back when I had many stomach illnesses and it did help.

However, I also heard that honey is made of simple sugars, decays teeth faster than sugar, and contains lots of calories.

I wonder if perhaps all this negative publicity about honey is a conspiracy to prevent us from using it and relying on ‘good ol’ medicine' instead.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Bears will be bears

I've learned a new word today -- hyperphagic. That's what bears are at this time of year -- frantic to put on weight for the winter. Inevitably, there are a few tensions with the human population as they raid bins and even stores. And a beekeeper in Park County, Montana has shot “four or five” black bears raiding his hives.

Italians object to Chinese honey imports

Italian honey producers have hit out at the dropping of the import ban on Chinese honey:
“The very honey that has been adulterated, and that was banned all over the world, including Europe, because it contained a toxic antibiotic (chloramfenicol), and now authorised again because a Chinese exporter just auto-certified his product. A careless decision by the EU, which goes to the detriment of consumers' health, and follows commercial interests.”

Friday, September 10, 2004

Italy has a good honey year

After several poor seasons, Italian beekeepers have a bumper crop this year. Apparently, there are 75,000 people working with bees in Italy -- this and a report on the honey stock markey (citrus yields up, eucalyptus down) right here.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Unusual use of beeswax

Here's a rather unsettling use of beeswax as a cosmetic. It will be featured in the Pennsylvania German Folklife Festival this weekend:
Kocher explained that the linen canvas screens which are mounted on a stand and now used as ornamental pieces, served a practical purpose for wealthier Colonial women who had been stricken with smallpox.

The disease pitted their skin and many women filled the depressions with beeswax which they covered with rice powder, Kocher said.

“If you sat next to a warm fire your face would melt,” she explained, and the screens, which looked like “a framed piece of needlework on a stand,” were used to shield those nearby from the fireplace heat. The height of the screens could be adjusted for convenience, Kocher said, noting that she enjoys adorning the linen with various patterns.

Guzzlers destabilize environment

Artificial watering holes (“guzzlers”) in the Californian deserts are causing controversy and conservationists are saying that this attempt to repair an already modified environment is making things worse. And in any case, it might just be driven by those wanting to ensure healthy game stocks. Even honeybees are involved:
Once eager to build guzzlers, Hughes, along with other environmentalists, now says they do more harm than good. The critics say guzzlers attract mountain lions, which ambush thirsty bighorn sheep, as well as ravens, which prey on juvenile desert tortoises. They also attract masses of honeybees that crowd out other pollinating insects.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Exterminator shows his skills in swarm collection

“An exterminator” was called to remove a swarm of bees from a jeep at the top of the Grand Canyon. Maybe they should have called a beekeeper -- just look at these pictures of his efforts. (To non-beekeepers: I don't think any beekeeper would use a plastic sheet to remove bees and certainly not to get in a tangle like this.)


Manuka tackles slime

More support for Manuka honey's healing power comes from University of Wales Institute Cardiff.

Slime -- just like you find around plugholes -- prevents wounds healing, but:
The laboratory grown samples were treated with Manuka honey, then unattached bacteria were washed off and the remaining slime layer studied after different time periods. In every sample the biofilm was disrupted making it more susceptible to the treatment with conventional antibiotics.

... The research could have a major impact in developing countries where honey is cheap and readily available, but modern pharmaceuticals are more difficult to obtain. Honey is easy to use and has no known harmful side effects on human health.

Kiwi varroa strategy approved

New Zealand has just approved its varroa strategy to try to keep varroa out of its South Island: it incorporates inter-island movement controls on beekeeping materials, public education measures and a South Island varroa surveillance programme. It will be funded by be funded by South Island regional councils and South Island beekeepers. The full report is available from here (scroll down to National Pest Management Strategy heading).


Sunday, September 05, 2004

Chinese place Kiwi bee products order

Comvita, probably the world's largest bee products health company, continues to do well following its New Zealand stock market flotation. It has just sealed its first export order to China -- a NZ$3 million dollar contract including propolis and manuka honey. This sounds like taking coals to Newcastle, as we say in Britain -- or for a global audience it should perhaps be oil to Saudi Arabia.

Emus and pig are latest victims

There's a rather sad story about the latest Africanized bee incident -- they killed two pet emus and a potbellied pig in New Mexico.
"Before I saw the bees, I saw the emus acting funny. They were running back and forth, running into the fence and falling down. I knew something was wrong," Reyes told the Daily Press.

A whiff of a new insect repellant

A single gene controls the sense of smell in fruit flies and probably other insects according to research from the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior at New York's Rockefeller University.

The gene is Or83b and without it insects have trouble locating humans. It may be possible to design a compound for an insect repellant that blocks the gene. Apparently, most insectv repellants are based on folk remedies and trial and error. Since so many diseases are transmitted by insect bites, this could be an extremely important finding.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Bee v wasp stings

Which imparts the most painful sting: honeybees or wasps?

The answer seems to vary according to individual reactions and circumstances, but an interesting response came from an Arizona newspaper:

The venom is fairly similar (about 20 active substances, but mainly melittin) although dosages can differ. Wasps and bees, however, have different stinging actions.
A wasp's stinger has little barbed lancets that kind of saw at your flesh after the stinger goes in. The barbs let it get a good grip on you while the stinger saws in deeper. And this sawing motion also sets up some pumping movement that sends the venom shooting from a poison sac through the shaft and into you.

Anyway, a bee's stinger works in more or less the same manner, except the lancets of a bee's stinger have bigger barbs. They really harpoon you.

The problem from the bee's point of view is that those larger barbs prevent it from pulling the stinger back out once it's stuck in your flesh. In the end, the whole package breaks off, the stinger and poison sac and all, and the bee dies.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Honey, that ain't honey

On my trip to Sri Lanka, I only saw Sri Lankan honey on sale in one shop. In fact there was hardly any honey on sale at all -- except for kitul palm honey, which isn't honey all, but is great with the local curd (yoghurt).

The kitul palm inflorescence yields copious amounts of nectar which is collected by intrepid tappers and then boiled to reduce its volume -- by about a sixth, which is, I believe, about the same reduction proportion as bees apply when converting nectar to honey. Quite why the kitul produces so much nectar (or sap as it is sometimes called) I'm not sure, but perhaps it is to encourage pollination by birds that would only be attracted by a hefty nectar reward. I can't seem to get a reliable answer to this one, so all comments welcome.

Kitul honey is a big contributor to the local economy in the lowland rain forests of Sri Lanka where it can involve a quarter of villagers and where production can contribute a very substantial $200 per hectare per year.

Oozing honey

Which country consumes 40% of it's annual honey consumption over a single festival?

Israel. During Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the succeeding Sukkot (Tabernacle) festival, an estimated 1,300 tons of honey is consumed.

Now there's a great honey marketing ploy.

Wednesday, September 01, 2004


You may recall the story in early August about wasps taking on the role as the 21st century protectors of the rock fortress Sigiriya in Sri Lanka. They managed to hopitalize about a dozen tourists and foced the closure of the fortress for a time.

Well, I can bring you some first-hand news about the fortress and the wasps -- if that's what they are. I'm just back from Sri Lanka and thank goodness Sigiriya is again open (picture below). And what a place it is. It's sometimes touted as the eighth wonder of the world -- and I don't think that is any exaggeration. Apart from the magnificence of the natural rock outcrop (a volcanic plug, I suspect), the man-made adaptations are the most impressive I have ever seen.

But first to the wasps -- or wild bees as Sri Lankans call them. I don't know what they are as I never actually saw any, but their nests, built on the cliff-face of the rock look like they could be built by Apis cerana (picture below).

As I began the ascent of the rock, at the ticket counter, I noticed a pile of beesuits and part way of the ascent, there were two bee / wasp shelters (picture below).

And for those of you who want to know why Sigiriya even sans wasps is so special:

The fortress stands 180 metres above the surrounding plains and in the fifth century, as now, was surrounded by jungle. The approach to the rock is across a huge moat and then through the remains of fantastic water gardens, then boulder gardens and then terrace gardens -- all of it built with huge attention to detail and unbelievable imagination. Experts think it was a playboy's paradise and possibly an attempt to emulate the mythical Alakamanda, the Himalayan mountain paradise god of riches, Kevera.

But that's only the start.

As you begin the ascent up the sheer face along tortuous steps, you pass a handful of the remaining beautiful paintings which once covered a huge area of the rock face. Then, because the king was afraid of heights (!), part of the ascent is behind the Mirror Wall, once glazed with honey, eggs and lime to give a mirror-like sheen -- even today.

Then comes the Lion's Platform (where the wasp refuges are) and the final ascent through the lion's paws. Once the whole of the lion's front existed (only the paws remain) and would have been a truly awesome sight. Finally, you reach the top and the king's palace. It even has what looks like a large swimming pool to collect the monsoon rains. To enter that domain must have been a terrifying and beautiful experience.

And to top it all, the reason for its construction seems to reveal a brilliant, paranoid, playboy tyrant. King Kassapa was born to a non-royal consort and knew that his half-brother, Moggallana would succeed him. So Kassapa seized the throne, and imprisoned and later killed his father for not revealing the whereabouts of his treasure. (Some say he had him plastered alive into a wall.) Moggallana fled to India, but Kassapa knew he would return -- and so he built Sigiriya as his defence.

Eighteen years later, Moggallana did return with his army. Ironically Kassapa and his men left the fortress and rode out to meet him. The story goes that Kassapa's elephant turned to avoid a hidden swamp, but his army thought this was a retreat and fled. Isolated and stranded, Kassapa beheaded himself.

Sigiriya, the fifth century rock fortress in Sri Lanka. Posted by Hello

The nests of the offending insects on the cliff-face of Sigiriya. Anyone know if these are made by wasps or Apis cerana? Posted by Hello

A bee / wasp shelter at Sigiriya. (If you look closely just to the left of the shelters, you can see the lion's paws either side of the steps leading to the top.)  Posted by Hello