Summer of the Red Wasps.
By Freddie A. Bowles
Posted from Fayetteville, Arkansas
To coexist, or not to coexist? That was the question when I opened the bathroom curtain to raise the window on a luscious morning early last spring. In the far left corner of the north-facing pane, a lone red wasp, known by some as a paper wasp, was busily constructing a delicate nest for a new home.
The Emerging Palace
Rouses a Soft Heart to Empathy.
My first inclination was to destroy this supposed pest. A loose rule of thumb regarding insect cohabitation at New House states (in bug script) that insects can remain outdoors and we will respect their turf, but when they invade our domain, especially ones that possess the ability to strike and render harm, the rules of engagement apply.
Yet, as I pondered the emerging palace of the red wasps, my soft heart begged for empathy and reconsideration.
After all, the industrious little menaces were merely creating a safe haven for their new brood. My practical nature forced me to postpone rash action, simply because I couldn't figure out a way to get rid of the nest without a detailed modus operandi.
A Sweet Real-Estate Deal
For the Red Wasps and Babies.
I discussed the dilemma with my mate of thirty years and we decided to let it be, though we both had fallen victim to red wasp stings o'er the many years. These semi-social buzzers like to build their nest in eaves and crevices and other protected sites, so our small window was an appealing location for the workers, queens, and males. We rarely opened the window anyway since our neighbors' home was just a pebble's toss from our north wall. We decided it was a sweet real-estate deal for the wasps, requiring little upkeep on our part. The lease was for one season only. Once the babies were mature and mated, they would leave the nest to overwinter elsewhere.
Little did I realize in April the delight I would discover in August as I observed the nest expand, and then fill with baby wasp larvae.
Suspended by a single grayish filament, the nest began to take on a resort character. More red wasps (Genus polistes; species carolina) appeared, squeezing through a small gap between the screen and the window facing. They never ceased expanding their paper palace. Small tubular chambers opened downward, reminding me of an extraterrestrial vehicle from a vintage sci-fi flick. I took to pulling back the curtain each day to check the progress of the newest members of our family at New House, the name we've bestowed on our most recent dwelling.
Mesmerized and Humbled
By Nature's Gift of Life.
One Sunday morning in mid-summer, during a frenzy of housecleaning, I pulled back the curtain to discover the décor of Paper Palace had changed. A silky celestial white cap now covered the tube chambers. Most exciting of all, the caps were moving! I took a magnifying glass to get a closer look, human eye to bug eye, and discovered that a dark triangular shape was pushing against the spun cap.
Amazed and startled to realize the cells contained larvae, I stood mesmerized and humbled by nature's gift of life in such a miniscule setting.
I couldn't exactly figure out what was happening at Paper Palace Resort. Some of the tubes bore pristine white caps, while others wore a mottled gray hat and revealed no sign of movement. The worker wasps were crawling all over the nest, poking their pointed heads in the empty chambers, then butting heads with a partner before continuing to another cell.
Mandibles Masticating Furiously,
The Workers Create Something.
I decided to choose one worker to watch intently. I watched its head enter an empty cell, mandibles masticating furiously, and then smiled as it bumped heads with another worker. A sport? Not at all. The two workers were creating some kind of material to pass off one to another. It was a pretty big mass of something. Sometimes they used their "legs" and "arms" to make this mass. After the stuff was handed off, the other worker placed it in one of the tubes.
Each day brought a variation on the chew, spit, and pass routine. Today offered several new discoveries. Polistes carolinas was joined by polistes exclamans. When I opened the curtain on this cooler and calmer Sunday morning, I stared at a lovely paper wasp with a yellow stripe on its face and variegated stockings on its "arms" and "legs."
I reported dutifully to my mate the shenanigans of Paper Palace Resort. Guests had arrived! Let the celebrations begin! Instead of passing off masses of brown blobs, the wasps were exchanging strings of honeyed liquid, and to my great delight, they were actually feeding it to the larvae.
A Metaphor of Acceptance
Emerges from Imagined Bug Chatter.
When I checked on the family tonight, one of the guests had its left "arm" draped over a friend's thorax. I imagined their bug chatter, sharing the good news of so many new arrivals, babies and relatives, and the fine abode secured in a sheltered nook next to a small window at New House.
I wondered, too, if the discussion included how they were going to teach these young 'uns to fly, to build a nest, to seek shelter from the storm. A few yards away on the suburban street, the young human inhabitants in our neighborhood could be seen making the daily trek to our local elementary school, some with parents in tow. I wonder if they chatter about the best way to ride a bike, build a playhouse, and seek shelter from the storm.
In neighborhoods everywhere in our community, classes have begun once more in the reassuring cycle of new semesters and new faces. Some of those faces hang by a slender filament in the crevices of a classroom space. Do they appear exotic? Different? Threatening? Do we choose to coexist and watch their growth? Or do we lash out in a learned response of fear and perceived self-protection?
Pause and Observe. Provide
A Safe Shelter for Learners.
Red wasps are a non-aggressive species of wasp. They are semi-social and like to eat flies and beetle larvae. The queen chooses the site to build her nest and enlists the worker wasps to lend a hand. She lays her eggs in up to 200 cells and waits for the larvae to pupate and become little baby wasps. Each caste — queens, males, and workers — helps to nurture the brood. At the end of a short season of birth and nurturing, the mated babes venture off to create their own habitats for another cycle of growth.
I ask my students in teacher school to pause and observe each and every face suspended by that slender thread of tradition, community, and culture, and to provide their learners with a safe shelter to thrive, grow, and someday fly away to build their own nests in the sheltering space of a new house.