When we took up housekeeping on Mountain View, the wasps had already staked out their territory. The workers putting on our new roof noticed a few nests hanging under the eaves. The painter staining our front porch reported the large active ground swell hidden in stacks of pine straw. What concerned viewer doesn’t tell a woman to pour gasoline on the nest at nightfall – and run? We diligently set about eradicating these threats with cans of spray.
On sunny days when spring was not in full swing, I saw wasps flying solo, making unbidden appearances. And in the interest of discretion and good judgment, I began to cover the honey dripped biscuits when breakfasting on the back deck, and kept a cautious eye on the tea and cookies I served in the afternoon on the front porch. We never dined alone, the formidable insects constantly hovered.
I have felt a wasp’s unapologetic sting, and watched in horror as my ten year old daughter stepped on a ground nest while camping in the Smokey Mountains, the swarm of stings instantly producing pain, swelling, redness, and sobs. We washed with alcohol swabs, packed with cooler ice, and served up four-hour potions of Benadryl from the campers’ first aid kit. A wasp struck my toddler son’s forehead with full force when we lived on the farm, and his violent vomiting and headache led to years of carrying an epipen. My mother-in-law’s wasp sting was the serious one – 911 call, ambulance run to the emergency room, and fifty years later (she just turned 96) she continues to have shots. Clearly wasps are pests, with a reputation for striking without apparent cause. I could not see these flying insects in any other light – until I heard the casual comment of a horticulturalist, “But Wasps are Wonderful”!
The perks of these creatures who inherited the earth long before we appeared on the evolutionary horizon are as hidden as the fact that indeed most wasps don’t cluster in nests, but live solitary lives. 135 million years ago these early insects shared the skyways with oversized dragonflies and pterosaurs. But by chance, circumstance, and nature’s drive to propagate they began to feed on pollen in the green forests filled with ferns and conifers, carrying the pollen around on their feed. From the beginning wasps were predators and today are credited with helping to control the pest population, feasting on aphids, spiders, and beetles. Apparently they take care of a super supply of flies as well. Pollinators, pest patrol, and oh my, they only live for one season with or without my intervention.
I still stare with caution when I see this insect approach, rarely making a buzz. I duck when necessary. I cover my sweet drink with my hand and check before sipping, in case a wasp has decided to search the glass for nectar. And I would eliminate as health precaution, strategically built nests. But in my wide berth I might also acknowledge a bit of thanks for their doing their proper job. Anyway I suspect that they would prefer we just stay out of the way.
And there’s always more to learn…
https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-beguiling-history-of-bees-excerpt/ Excerpted from The Beguiling History of Bees by Dave Goulson