The event related here took less than 60 seconds. It happened near Sougia on the south coast of Crete in the intense heat of a day in late May 2007.
Rocky cliffs and a turquoise sea
So we were trudging along the coastal part of the European trekking trail E4. After having climbed Kastro the previous day we had decided that the ups and downs through Crete's cliff on its south coast were just what we needed. As usual we hadn't heed the guidebook's warning - don't go on hot days - bring lot's of water. We had been forced to turn around midway and were now nearing Sougia, where we had parked the car. Everything inside of us was screaming for the car's AC.
On top of the last cliff, already in view of Sougia we found half a dozen olive trees with several rocks underneath, neatly placed in the shade. A last break before heading down? You bet!
After a while our tortured brains cooled off and we noticed the beehives which were placed in front of us. Obviously it was too hot even for insects as there was not much activity going on. Then I saw big brown-and-yellow insects flying by - destination beehive. Hornets? But what would a hornet be able do do against a hive? They'd be eaten alive wouldn't they?
Judith and started discussing whether these animals really were hornets. Judith spoke of drones or bumble bees. Bumble bees? In a bee hive? No way! Sighing, I grabbed my camera with the Tele lense and stepped out of the shade towards the beehives. Seeing one of the animals I took for hornets hover around the opening of a hive I took a shot. Magnification on the screen proved it to be blurry but the animal clearly had wasp shape. Triumphantly I turned announcing my findings.
And now it happened...
Hornet with prey
A hornet zommed by close to me, probably 1m (3 feet). Out of the corner of an eye I saw that there was something in its fangs. I turned, following the insect with my eyes. It settled on one of the olive trees under which we were taking our break. I quickly stepped closer, camera ready to shoot.
The time it took me to adjust the camera much had happened. The hornet was hanging from one of its limbs, the other five holding a bee. The hornet quickly turned the bee in its legs and with a sickening crunch its fangs tore off wings and legs. Before I could take aim - 10 seconds at most - the bee's head was gone!
Still the hornet was turning what remained of the bee's body in its legs and was now slowly digging into the "meaty" parts of breast and abdomen. Indigestible parts flew here and there and after half a minute nothing was left of the poor bee. For a while the hornet kept hanging from the olive branch, obviously "picking its teeth" after a good meal. Then it dropped, and buzzed away - direction beehive. After all there was more to be had.
The incident turned my views of the insect kingdom upside down. For me hives - bees or ants - always had been indestructible. One animal gone, others would step in its place. But here several dozen hornets obviously had achieved decimating the populations of some 15 beehives that almost no bees were issuing out anymore.
Armored hornet with prey
Watching the hornet with its suit of armor I wondered - why don't hornets take over the world? Who can stop them?