Rural: Nature Note

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The Independent Online
Honey bees are still venturing out of their hives on warm days, but queen hornets - strangest of insects - have gone into hibernation, already fertilised by males. Cold and damp do not seem to harm them as they sleep the winter away, tucked under flaps of tree-bark or in holes in dead wood: more dangerous to them are foraging shrews.

Unlike bats, which emerge from their torpor during warm spells, the queens will lie doggo until the days lengthen in spring. Those that have survived will then emerge in aggressive mood; some will make nests and establish new colonies, but many will die in air-combat as they lock with rivals, each trying to sting the other to death. Hornets do not store food, and their existence is pitifully short: young worker-queens live for about three weeks, males for less; even a dominant queen lasts only 12 months, half of which she spends asleep. The species as a whole is declining, mainly through loss of good habitat such as old orchards and unkempt woodland.