The Naturalist on Chios, Greece.

Mike Taylor , Liverpool Museum.

Bees, Wasps and Ants

The Liverpool Museum survey has proved the presence of a large number of species of Bees, Wasps and Ants, ( Hymenoptera ), on Chios. The ants have been subjected to detailed study resulting in the recording of over 80 species, far more than recorded for any other Greek island. Kato Fana has proved to be particularly rich with 19 species recorded so far.

Spider hunting wasps, Pompilidae, are numerous on Chios with over 40 species identified to date. These wasps prey on spiders which they hunt by running over the ground on their long legs with a somewhat frantic darting gait, and long twitching curled antennae, diving beneath stones and pebbles and creeping amongst the roots of vegetation. They seize their prey and paralyse them with a surgical and accurate injection of venom into the spiders main nerve centres. The paralysed spider is then taken into the wasps nest chamber, usually a hole in the ground. The wasp then lays an egg on the spiders body which is a living food source for the growing larva. One of the largest species found on Chios is, Cryptocheilus alternatus, this has a wingspan of about 50mm and preys on species of large spiders. It is well known for preying on the large Tarantula spider, however its prey on Chios is other large spiders including Pseudotarantula. I have found this large wasp in the northwest of Chios behind the beaches at Managros and Agios Markella. Other species of these wasps are generally distributed on Chios and can be seen wherever their prey are to be found.

There are a number of other large predatory wasps on Chios, some of the most noticeable being the rich purply-brown winged, yellow and brown bodied wasps of the family Scoliidae, the species most often seen is Scolia flavifrons, the females of this species are the largest wasps found on Chios measuring up to 60mm in wingspan and 30mm in body length. The females burrow underground seeking out beetle grubs, including those of scarabs and chafers, these are paralised with an injection of venom and an egg of the wasp is then positioned on the body of the victim. The growing larvae feeds externally on the grub, first eating the non-vital parts of the body so as to avoid early putrifaction which would result from the early death of the prey. These wasps are widespread and common in the summer throughout the lower levels of Chios and can often be seen nectaring on wildflowers and shrubs. The smaller males are particularly fond of the flower heads of onion plants.

Social Wasps, Vespidae, of several species, are found throughout the island and generally are of great benefit. These wasps are carnivorous, feeding their larvae on pulped up insects, many of them harmful to gardeners and farmers. Bees in contrast are vegetarian, feeding their larvae on honey and pollen. Man has harnessed the hard working bee to provide honey from the stores built by the bees during the summer months. Social Wasps do not store food, neither do they swarm in order to establish new colonies. At the end of the winter only mated female Social Wasps survive and they make a small nest out of paper produced by chewing wood and bark fibres. Once the colony has expanded sufficiently, successive generations of workers tend the growing numbers of larvae in the nest by providing pulped insects as food, and making more nest cells, the queen then devotes all her energy to egg laying. During the course of the summer and autumn a nest can often produce 20000 or more individual wasps.

From mid summer to late autumn as the colony reduces the production of new workers and only raises a small number of fertile males and females, many workers cease searching for insect prey for the larvae and start to indulge in their fondness for sweet things like nectar and fruit. It is at this time that wasps can become very troublesome to people in country and seaside areas, particularly when eating and drinking in tavernas or having a picnic on a beach. Like Bees, Social Wasps need good supplies of fresh water for the colony and much effort is expended in searching for and carrying water back to the nests, individuals flying several Km for this purpose when necessary. Areas of Chios with narrowly confined water supplies in otherwise very productive habitats for their food sources can show huge concentrations of Bees and Wasps at the localised source of water. This explains why Elinta can probably claim the title of 'Wasp Capital of Chios'. The underlying ground beneath the Elinta water course is formed from a thick layer of water impermiable clay.

All the water falling in a huge limestone catchment area to the north and east of Elinta, several square Km in extent, is channelled by this geological feature to exit into the sea at or below the shore line. This has given rise to the reedbeds immediately behind the beach at Elinta, which provide perfect breeding grounds for Mosquitos and blood sucking Horse Flies such as Tabanus lunatus . The fresh water spring line gives rise to free running water particularly along the centre and eastern sections of the pebble beach from about six feet above sea level, the head of water in the surrounding mountains also causes fresh water to be discharged from the seabed to a significant distance seawards. This section of beach is the best place in Chios for observation by naturalists interested in Bees and both Social and Solitary wasps. A swimmer in the waters just near to this part of the beach can see the peculiar optical distortion created by the mixing of streams of water with different salinity, the growth of specialised stone clinging weeds which require semi-saline conditions are to be seen at their best at this location.

Whilst observing the Social Wasps in mid to late summer at Elinta I have frequently seen holydaymakers coming onto an apparently attractive but yet deserted beach only to have to quickly abandon it due to unacceptable numbers of wasps. These wasps are even attracted to the heads of swimmers some distance from the shore, presumably because the swimmers hair is soaked in low salinity water. This unnacceptable level of wasp activity presumably explains the lack of housing or commercial interest in providing refreshment facilities at Elinta. Any attempt to spray the wasps with insecticides would be frought with problems due to the high level of collateral damage likely to be inflicted on the commercially valuable Hive Bees, much in evidence in the catchment area involved.

Many different species of Solitary Bees are to be found on Chios sustained by the extensive range of flowering plants found on the island.


© M.J.Taylor 2003. - email: mike.taylor(at) 

Home - Map of Chios - Introduction - Birds on Chios - Wildflowers on Chios - Insects on Chios - Butterflies and Moths - Bees, Wasps and Ants - Flies - Snakeflies, Antlions and Lacewings - Dragonflies - Beetles - Grasshoppers and Crickets - Scorpions and Spiders on Chios - Mammals on Chios - Frogs and Toads on Chios - Lizards and Snakes on Chios - Armadillos, Terrapins and Tortoises on Chios - Marine Fish on Chios - Photographs - Acknowledgements