Uh-oh. A black-and-yellow fuzzball the size of a winged guinea pig is straddling my sandwich. Whew! It’s a bumble bee, not a wasp. In the bug world, bees are the football linemen, intimidating yet mild-mannered, usually history majors. But the wasp families, including hornets and yellowjackets, resemble skinny basketball players with an attitude. And they crave meat—preferably still breathing.
Discover the fascinating world of wasps through: (a) books; (b) picnics; and (c) mowing over a ground nest. Interactive learning is such fun! Wasp removal by lawnmower, however, is generally frowned upon by animal rights people and emergency room staff. So I make tiny traps out of staples and peanut shells, then release the caged individuals in another neighborhood. Not yours, I’m 50% sure.
How do we differentiate between males, females, and the queen? Tying them down for observation under a microscope can be tricky. Practice your knots. And remember, branding wasps is illegal in most states, so if you see little numbers, contact the authorities. Or remove the price tag from the lens. Just kidding, hahaha. Of course, that never happened to me.
I’ve examined yellowjackets. Oh, the deception wrought upon us! Goodness, they’re not wearing jackets at all! Each male swaggers around in skin-tight black matador pants, flexing his bare, oiled thorax. Dear me, what narcissistic libertines! The jingle of little tool belts will clue you to the workers. And Her Highness? Look for the big gal in a yellow tutu and platform shoes.
Workers communicate directions to distant food by dancing. Usually the Hokey Pokey. We know it works because scientists strapped radar transponders to dance spectators and tracked them from the hive to the buffet line. Er, strapped? As in harness?? How ridiculous. Ankle bracelets are lighter. Better yet, ear tags!
Only a trained naturalist like myself knows when these secret, elaborate party dances occur. Pssst. Want a tip? Look for a hive leaking confetti and cocktail napkins.
Wasps love a home-cooked meal, and will squeeze nectar out of a captured bee, actually slurping it off the bee’s tongue. Far out. And they will even continue eating while they are being eaten by a mantis. Farther out! What I’d give for such focus, such concentra—great haircut, Ruth! Where’s Tom?
So, are six-legged courtships the same as twelve-step dating? That’s cute, but no. Wasps LUST!! (That’s hard to say ten times.) Each wannabe-queen flies out for a mid-air tickle fest with up to 40 drones. Yes, 40!! Why, those little sluts! And everyone’s doin’ the nasty in our yards??!? Have mercy, O ye gelded gods in gabardine!!
Workers then scope out the returning wannabes to see who had the most “dates,” so to speak, and crown her as queen. How can they tell? Well, the literature makes a big whooptidoodle about pheromone alteration. Oh, puh-lease! Anyone with half a brain could spot the salacious tart who tumbles into the nest, exhausted, with her antennae and ponytail askew. For shame! Yet I cannot believe that all wannabes trade their chastity for a shot at the throne. Surely, a few say no to doing the back-seat watusi, and will instead visit an ailing aunt, or perhaps write a humor column.
And the males? The poor bastards die quickly, forever denied the glory of bragging in the locker room. A pity.
The workers then produce a goo called royal jelly, and feed it to all larva (the Latin word for ugly babies). Depending on how much the larva chow down, they’ll become workers or wannabe-queens. God only knows where males come from.
Some people eat royal jelly as a health supplement. But I cannot in good conscience support such a godless, hedonistic entomological system. Instead, I’ve adopted a battalion of workers, and milk them for my own “free range” royal jelly.
I don’t mind rising before dawn, but perching for hours on a teeny milking stool is brutal.