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Our Friend the Yellow Jacket

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  • Our Friend the Yellow Jacket

    This essay was written about 25 years ago. I'm still an active land surveyor, but pretty much confined to office work any more.
    yellow jacket.jpg


    Often at picnics and barbecues I watch people swing their hands to chase these winged insects away from their sandwich plates as they exclaim, “Bees!” Actually, they are not bees. Bees belong to a group known as social insects because of their communal lifestyle. The truth is, yellow jackets are anything but social. Just disturb one of them and watch just how social they can get. Look at one of them closely as it crawls around your lunchmeat, looking for a tasty morsel. The facial expressions on these beady-eyed creatures seem to say, “Go ahead. Just try it!” Anybody who has experienced one of their sting operations will know enough to let them munch away to their heart’s content.

    Pity the poor soul who takes a bite into a ham sandwich before looking between the slices to make sure that the only meat between the slices of bread is what he put there. Pity also the thirsty athlete who grabs the already-open can of soda for a refreshing drink, only to find that somebody, or some thing, beat him to it. And was still inside the can. Unfortunately, the “food facts” label on the side of the can doesn’t include anything that may have found its way into the can after it had been opened.

    They have a very short life span. And as the summer draws to an end, the nights grow colder and food becomes scarcer, yellow jacket senility begins to set in, and they begin to behave in strange manners. Like crawling up your sleeves, down your collar, or into your pockets when you aren’t looking, trying to find warmth. At first, you feel an itching sensation in your leg. Thinking it’s just a twitching nerve, you reach down to scratch it. Next thing you know, the itch suddenly becomes a sharp pain. You’ve been stung.

    Having been in the land surveying profession for over twenty years, I have had my share of close encounters of the wildlife kind. Most of them I can handle. Twelve-inch-long chaining pins come in handy for the vicious two-hundred-pound doberman or german shepherd that hadn’t been fed his regular course of mailman lately. Some canines have a habit of snarling and snapping at you while their tails are playfully wagging. My philosophy in that situation is to believe whichever end has the most teeth.

    Ticks, bears, wolves, attorneys. The land surveyor has learned to confront all sorts of low-life, bloodthirsty carnivores. But one characteristic about the yellow jacket is its slow response time, somewhat similar to the Commodore 1541 disk drive. You can unknowingly set up your transit directly over their underground nest, level the instrument and adjust it, meanwhile modifying the dimensions of their nest’s superstructure with your foot before they respond. Next thing you know, you’ve been chased away, leaving them to safely guard thousands of dollars worth of survey equipment.

    You usually can’t see their nests until after you’ve damaged them. I remember one job. I was using a brush hook to clear a straight line through a vacant lot with light growth. As I hacked away at a sapling, it became uprooted. In the hole where it was rooted, directly between my feet, were hundreds of now-homeless yellow jackets. I immediately dropped the axe, hollered to my co-worker to take cover, and ran down the street for nearly two blocks, risking the possibility of getting ticketed for exceeding the speed limit in a residential zone. Frantic, I looked back as I ran. One of them was still chasing me. He eventually got me right between the shoulder blades.

    Normally I am a gentle, peaceful person. My philosophy is, “live and let live.” But not when it comes to yellow jackets. Whenever I see one of these poor helplessly trapped creatures trying to break its way through a window pane, my adrenalin begins pumping. I run to the cabinet where my arsenal of deadly weapons are stored. There’s the ant and roach killer. No, too deadly, too concentrated. The fly spray? No, that covers too wide an area with a fine spray.

    There it is! The AK-47 of insecticides! Wasp and Hornet Spray! Not as potent as the others, but instead of a fine spray of concentrated instant death, it offers a thin, diluted, steady stream that shoots as far as fifteen feet. And its deadly fluid coats the bodies of its helpless victims as it slowly seeps into their lungs, into their pores. Within a fraction of a second, its three-lobed body go into spasms. Its stinger, in vain shooting out into empty space, failing to penetrate the epidermis of an unseen enemy, failing to inflict pain on its assailant as a final act of revenge for its untimely death. As the seconds draw on, the muscle spasms become slower, weaker, as the helpless yellow jacket slowly fades into a state of unconsciousness, its body gradually curling up into a fetal position that tells its assailant that the last remaining spark of life had been extinguished.

    It’s over. This menace to society can no longer instill fear into the hearts of picnickers, can no longer hinder the livelihood of land surveyors. I think of tossing its lifeless body at a yellow jacket nest as a warning to others who contemplate the same reckless lifestyle that this one chose to live.

    Sometimes I am fortunate enough to discover one of their secret hideouts, before the hideouts discover me. I take note of its location. Sometimes it’s a crack in a sidewalk, or a hole in the trunk of a dying tree. One unique characteristic of yellow jackets is that they always return to their nest at the first indications of sunset. On an overcast day, they may return to their nest even earlier. There are still a few hours of visibility after the time they return to their nest.

    I plan my strategy. I get a five gallon gasoline can and fill it up with gasoline. I wait until well after sunset to make sure that any stragglers have managed to find their way home. Then I pour the deadly contents of that gasoline can directly onto the opening to their nest, effectively blocking their only avenue of escape. In my mind I picture the panic and terror that must be striking into their hearts, utterly destroying what a few moments ago was a peaceful home, a refuge.

    But then I realized, I had been fooled. This was not a home. It was a base of operations, from which they planned their attacks upon every unsuspecting picnic within half a mile. Even now they were raising an army of cruel warriors who would live on into next summer to terrorize even more picnickers and land surveyors.

    No, I am not a sadistic murderer. I am a warrior. I have just made a deadly attack on one of their fortresses, and lived to tell about it. I have inflicted hundreds of casualties upon the enemy. And next summer land surveyors and picnickers will be just a little bit safer because of my brave efforts.

  • #2
    I have wasp problems around my house. I took a chance and bought one of those fake wasp nests to hang up under my house eave. It is basically a splotchy gray bag you stuff and hang up. Surprisingly it worked. I used to have paper wasps constantly trying to build nests around my deck. Since I hung up the fake nest, they have stayed away. I still see a lone wasp flying around from time to time, but no nests and they are pretty infrequent visits.



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