How I Learned to Appreciate Wasps
Some years ago, a hornet nest was being crafted diligently and expertly inside our house wall by some of these noisy and frightening creatures. When I asked our gardener Vittorio, a gentle and animal-loving soul, for advice on how to deal with them, I was told that the only thing to do was to kill them by spraying poison into the access hole in the outer wall where the hornets fly in and out. Early in the morning, when all hornets are peacefully asleep inside the wall would be the best time for the attack, Vittorio said and volunteered for the job.
The next morning at 6 o’clock, Vittorio, armed with a large spray bottle of hornet poison, drove up our hill, arranged a step ladder so that he could comfortably spray into the hole, and emptied the can into the wall opening that I had identified as the entrance to the hornets’ hive. Sadly, I had been mistaken, and a family of eight bats escaped from the opening. Most flew into the early-morning light and were not seen again, but one died shortly after.
I felt guilty and stupid. I should have known that the spaces between the inner and the outer walls of our old farm house accommodate not just hornets, but also bats, wasps, scorpions, and who knows what other creatures, who all have their useful and rightful place in our environment. However, they ended up as collateral damage. Right then I decided to never, never use poison again.
A year after this sad incident, the construction work on another wasp hive was discovered high up in the outer wall of our Essiccatoio, the restored drying shed. I was determined to get them out of there, but was unwavering in using no poison. My son-in-law Julian was at hand to eliminate them in a gentler and more focused manner. He came up with the idea of attaching the pipe of our vacuum cleaner to a step ladder so that the opening of the pipe rested on the wall right below the small wall opening that provided the wasps access to their would-be hive between the outer and the inner walls of the Essiccatoio. Over the next four hours or so, the vacuum filled two bags with wasps.
A couple of years have passed since. Over the last few days, I have been vacuuming away wasps on a new hole in the outer wall of the main house. Comfortably positioned on a chair in front of the wall, with the vacuum pipe in one hand and a glass of something in the other, I have been able to observe these hardworking and intelligent insects as my vacuum cleaner was sucking them up. The longer I observe them, the more I come to appreciate them for their strength in slogging heavy loads of food for their young, or construction materials for their hive, and their resolve in finding alternate access to their hive once they found its access obstructed by cement. I have also observed that several of these wasps were much larger and more strikingly colored than their hive brothers and sisters. They also differed in behavior. While the smaller wasps were anxious to deliver their loads, the few larger wasps lingered around the opening to the hive, occasionally even resting on the vacuum pipe to groom themselves. Some even decided against entering altogether and, thus, escaped the pipe suction. I wonder whether these larger, attractive wasps might be the possibly more intelligent and definitely more cautious, non-working ruling class of the hive.
While I believe that our peaceful home is better off with fewer wasps, I feel bad with every thump I feel in the pipe, signaling that another wasp is about to find its end in the vacuum bag. However, Wikipedia says that the European wasps around here have no redeeming characteristics, particularly not pollinating our fruit trees. So until I hear otherwise, I will continue vacuuming away our yellow-jackets.