Friday, August 30, 2013

Stirring up a hornet's nest -- literally!

Over the years, I have stirred up plenty of symbolic hornet's nests with my controversial stances on various issues -- but this time I did it for real.  OK, they were really Yellow Jackets, the smaller cousins of the Bald-faced Hornet -- but they get just as angry when you disturb their nests.

Yellow Jackets coming out of
an underground nest (Photo courtesy of
South Texas Nature Images on Flikr)
Of course I didn't do this on purpose -- nobody does that!  A couple days ago the wind took down a paper birch tree, and I needed some nice sticks for an upcoming Cub Scout craft project that my grandson's Pack is planning to do.  (Since I have a wood lot, it falls to me to provide a lot of the natural materials.)  I thought the white birch bark would look nice, so this morning I went out to cut off some of the branches -- and unwittingly stepped into the nest.

Yellow Jackets usually nest in the ground, often using an old rabbit hole or other tunnel, so they are very hard to see until it is too late  This one was covered by the crown of the fallen tree.   I was so intent on choosing and cutting my salvaged branches that I did not notice the wasps until a swarm was buzzing around me.

Luckily I was wearing heavy pants tucked into my boots, in preparation for tromping through underbrush in the ditch where the tree fell.  Good thing, because those little buggers grabbed onto the cloth of my pants and really hung on -- if I had been wearing shorts, I would have had stings all over my legs.  As it was, I only got 3 on my arms and one on my face as I high-tailed it out of there.  (This is why I'm always telling people NOT to wear shorts in the woods.   Sure it's hot wearing long pants -- but even worse getting scratched up or stung!)

While on the subject of Yellow Jackets, you may notice that there seem to be a lot more of them around your picnic table in the fall.  This is because during the summer they feed their young on insects, so they don't have much interest in your bottle of pop or your jelly roll.  But in the fall, after the new queens have flown and the colony starts to break up, the worker wasps switch to a sugary diet -- and start buzzing around your outdoor events.  Suddenly it seems as if the population has exploded overnight.  I myself have noticed a lot more of them around my hummingbird feeders lately -- and now I know where they are all coming from!  But really, they have been increasing steadily all summer, you just don't see many until fall.

Unlike honey bees, wasp and hornet colonies don't winter over.  The new queens fly and mate, then find a place to hibernate for the winter.  The rest of the wasps die off  with the cold weather.  So, after we get a few hard frosts, I'll be able to return to that tree and safely salvage some birch sticks.


Anonymous said...

This has been a bad year for wasps and yellow jackets here in Northeastern Washington. We have a paper wasp nest in our cupboard in the garage--it's not round shaped it's kind of L-shaped since it had bottles in the way. Jim was going to kill them but then he figured so far he hasn't needed anything in there so he let them be till they're gone. Hoping for good karma in not killing them: ) JoAnn

Yonassan Gershom said...

Actually, wasps and hornets are very beneficial fr the garden --they are predators of many garden pests, including cabbage worm caterpillars. Some are also pollenators, and with the honeybee shortage lately, we need all of those we can get. So we don't kill them unless they are posing a danger to people (such as being right over the door.) The paper wasps make nests under the eaves of the house every year, and I just let them be.

After the frost kills them naturally, I remove the empty nests and believe it or not, I sell them on ebay! Science teachers and collectors want them for displays. And since I did not spray them with anything, they are safe for kids to handle.

Jeff Eyges said...

Saw your recent video on YouTube. Very well done. Unfortunately, I don't think it will convince anyone in its target group. To them, Yiddishkeit is only what their rebbaim tell them it is.

Did you see Dr. Schwartz's article on JPost, put up a couple of days ago?

Every time he posts, the reactionary right wing frum trolls come out of the woodwork to tell him he doesn't know what he's talking about. I don't know where he finds the patience to deal with them. I find them contemptible.

I think I've told you that after decades of searching, I came away a convicted atheist (which raises theological problems in itself, but we needn't go there) - however, if I did believe, I'd stay far away from Orthodoxy. I simply can't abide most of the people (and that includes the Modern Orthodox, and no, I'm not basing this upon the ravings of a few cretins online). If Orthodoxy does represent absolute truth, I'd quite literally rather go to gehinnom.

Shana tova, Rabbi.

Anonymous said...

I meant to say the bald faced hornets made the nest not paper wasps. These little creatures are great cleaning up debris. There was a dead shrew in the driveway and the wasps were right there cleaning up.JoAnn

Yonassan Gershom said...

Cipher: Dr. Schwartz is one of the most patient people I know. I give him kudos for handling hecklers a lot more gracefully than I do:)

RE: Youtube videos, we never know the seeds we plant. A person has to speak out even if nobody is listening.

RE Orthodoxy, I know both good and bad (Dr. Schwartz is Modern Orthodox, BTW.) I believe one should never join a religion because of the people -- that is too culty for me. Ditto for any other cause. But then, I'm more of an idea person than a socializer.

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