Home » Uncategorized » A sting in the tail (or the arm, neck, leg or other unfortunate body part)

A sting in the tail (or the arm, neck, leg or other unfortunate body part)

No one loves wasps.

Well, that is probably not true. I suspect many of the people who study wasps – and they are interesting little beasts – probably have a soft spot for them. But I think it is fair to say that there are few creatures so universally vilified. I’m not a fan either, I confess. This weekend one of them stung my lovely wife for no particular reason that we could see. Just flew up to her and stung her as she was standing still in the middle of a sun kissed garden.
In that act of apparent motiveless violence (and in this case a pyrrhic one as the individual in question ended its days ground into the grass by a vengeful flip flop) is one of the reasons I think that many of us hate them.
I do try and speak out for even the most nefarious of creatures, but despite my protestations in their defence that they are useful scavengers, kill a lot of garden plant attacking pests and also are pollinators, most people I know take the ‘what on earth are wasps for?’ attitude. That is ‘what are they for’ apart from randomly stinging people and crawling all over food, anyway.
But what is any creature ‘for’? The bottom line is that whether you believe in ineffable design or that it is all a random process, everything certainly has a role to play and when you remove it from the picture you are going to have a number of impacts, many of which are difficult to predict.
Even the inevitable extinction of the panda (sorry panda fans, but I’m not putting any money on them still sitting and munching on bamboo in fifty years time, at least in the wild) will have some impact, if only to deprive conservation charities of a poster child.
We have had the message quite a lot this year on the subject of bees. Yes, some people are scared of bees too, but a lot of people are fond of honey and the stories of imminent crop disaster from a lack on pollination have been high profile in recent times and there appears to be (ho ho) a groundswell of goodwill. Plus, on the whole our British bees at least do not bother you unless you bother them – not true of all species of bee (globally) where some are extremely aggressive (as an aside, I have been stung by a bee once; I was eight, on holiday and I sat on the poor thing. My father found it very, very funny.)
So we have Miss. Bee provided for in little bee hotels set up for her over winter in; we are advised to plant bee friendly plants to encourage them, and even provide dilute sugar solutions to give them a little bit of an extra buzz if they work themselves too hard, the poor dears. But old grumpy Miss. Wasp gets fumigated, traps put out for her, newspapers and other devices thrown at her and generally a lot of hand waving and verbal abuse (I wonder how many young children learn naughty words in the late summer thanks to wasp related incidents. A fair few I reckon, although possibly not as many as result from interactions between road users when behind the wheel). And yet poor Miss Wasp is only trying to eat; most of her normal sources of food are limited now at this time of year
I have to confess though that I am also a wasp murderer.
In a fit of revenge against the attack on my family I took the battle to the black and yellow terrors and managed to drown at least one in a sink as a retributive strike. Do I feel guilty now for this premeditated act of insecticide? Not really… But at the same time I do think that if anyone needs a PR campaign in the insect world it is the wasp. As with many things we dislike there is an element of fear involved and while it can never be eliminated but with knowledge it can be mediated.
In some respects the wasp is a victim of its own success. The colouring, the buzzing and the infamous sting itself challenges us mightily it seems. Looking at it objectively, and for the majority of us that fortunate not to have an allergy to the sting (which throws thing into and entirely understandable reason to be concerned) it is still interesting that a wasp can reduce creatures many times their size and power into a fit of panic at the slightest appearance.

You have to give the little blighters some credit for that at least.

(And if you are turning into a wasp lover, find fellow enthusiasts at http://www.buglife.org.uk/discoverbugs/Wonderful+Wasps/Wonderful+Wasps+-+Wasp+Facts and http://www.royensoc.co.uk/insect_info/what/social_wasps.htm)

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