Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Wasp Wars

My friend Frank the Batman doesn’t use chemicals to keep tent caterpillars away from his pecan trees. Instead Franks hangs six inch PVC pipe caps from the trees and apparently those make excellent homes for wasps, which happen to also enjoy tent caterpillars for lunch.  When he told me this story the first time I hardly believed it because, let’s face it, build it and they will come doesn’t seem like something that would apply to wasps. Silly me! I went over and upended one of the caps, the wasps greeted me as warmly as ever, and I was running for my life. Frank has the harmony with nature thing cranked up pretty high. Somehow, he’s harnessed to power of wasps to do his bidding, and all is well.

I, on the other hand, well, I’m not doing so well.

As far as I can tell, there are no tent caterpillars on my front porch. Honestly, other than a few spiders, there doesn’t seem to be an abundance of wasp food there at all. Yet this is the territory staked out by all creatures flying and stinging and for the life of me I cannot figure out why they so desperately want or need that piece of real estate.

Now generally speaking, I am a big fan of insects who eat other insects for a living. Many years ago a friend of mine dropped in on me and he noticed there was a rather large wasp nest hanging from the northeast eave of the house. Nuke them, he cried, lest they attack and sting you! I told him I liked them because they ate bugs. Mike, they are bugs, he replied, and he had a pretty good point. But the good of a creature’s existence has to be weighed against what inconvenience it might cause me, and unless that creatures is actively seeking my destruction, I will not seek the destruction of that creature.

Last year, or maybe it was the year before, I let some wasps make a home above my back door and we all got along just fine. Then one day, they decided they outnumbered me and attacked. I nuked them with a chemical spray, and that was that. I did feel bad about it but I simply will not cede my back door to insects in the name of harmony. So once again, this year, in fact just a month or so ago, I decided to let the wasps building nests on the front porch were good, and I let them live. Once again, I got stung, but this time it was from a dozen or so of them and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta locked me up until they were convinced I didn’t have smallpox.  My head looked like I had been attacked by a small child with a red magic marker making a connect- the- dots puzzle.
This year I decided to use a more natural form of pest control so I nuked them with dishwashing detergent which worked very well. The only downside is I was usually gone during the night so I never quite got all of them, and those who remained would rebuild in the same site the others had died. Why? If you lived in a house that was burned down by wasps would you rebuild on the same site, time after time? Okay, wasps generally do not burn houses down, but you get the point, don’t you? Yet I’ve nuked two sites three of four times and after a few days, there they are again. Do they not learn from disaster? They are as bad as the armadillos who seek their own deaths in the fenced in part of the yard where, I would think obviously, three large dogs live.
 Guinea wasps are the smallest form of Georgia wasp and they are also a little more aggressive than their cousins the red wasps who are just plain scary looking, size wise. People around here call them “Ginny” wasps and rumors of their aggressive behavior lose nothing in the telling. But they will not chase you for miles, they will not die stinging you, and they will not look you up on Facebook and hunt you down at night.  They are the wasps that are plaguing me, and I have no idea what to do but keep killing them.

First I thought it was a population thing. I thought once there were so many of them in a nest they would expand their territory by attacking larger prey, and that would be me. Yet yesterday a new nest with an army of two, yes a pair, decided that the connect –the- dots book needed new material and my head was once more peppered with stings, albeit a pair. Alas! Both insect kamikaze were reunited with the souls of their brethren and the tiny nest, replete with a nice view of the yard, was torn down.

Today, there is a   Guinea wasp rebuilding in the same spot.

It is a lonely looking solitary creature, and it is attaching the paper used for the nest at the anchor of the old one, which was used to hold the first one. Personally, if it were me, I would go find a nice tree, or maybe a barn or something, somewhere there isn’t dish washing detergent flying through the air like a bubbly death, but these are simple minded creatures. It is already mid- July, and the Summer is half done.  This creature has a month, at best of very good feeding and breeding weather but by the middle of August there will be signs the season is changing. In two weeks after that, at the end of August, there will be very distinct signs Autumn is approaching. In two weeks after that, the weather will begin to cool, the plants will grow less quickly, the insects that feed upon the plants will be less plentiful, and the end will draw near.  I speak to you of a season, but for this creature it is nothing short of an entire lifetime, with one last chance to reproduce.
Take Care,
Mike

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