jelly and wasp

These days, with a retired alarm clock gathering dust, waking in the morning is a mostly pleasant and lazy process. But this morning, I was awakened with an unlikely sense of clarity rather than the usual clamber through the state of drowsy fogginess. In the span of a fraction of a second, my primitive brain had ascertained that a potential threat was walking slowly across my face.

Instantly, I absolutely realized that calmness must reign. Rather than slap this insurgent silly or to leap out of bed with sheets and comforter being launched into an airborne tangle, I remained still and quietly took stock of the situation at hand. I’ll admit, for a moment I felt the need for a violent and quick exit. But if I chose that route I knew it would launch my mate,  Miss Nancy, from her deep sleep, initiating a spike in her adrenaline and there would be consequences that might be painful and costly if we were to become entangled with sheets, comforter and each other’s limbs as we rose to the dawning partnered with panic.

Instead, I slowly reached up to the plodding wasp and quickly flicked it off. The wasp tumbled and landed next to me on the bed. Like a stunned lightweight boxer, it staggered on the sheet. The thin-waisted intruder seemed confused as it slowly moved only inches away from my side.

I could see that the paper wasp was not agitated nor any real threat to us. I lowered my head back into the hollow of my pillow, noted that Miss Nancy was still sleeping, and I decided to watch this wayward wasp.

I smiled and whispered, “Good Morning Your Highness.” This wasp, uninvited bedmate, was not a commoner like me, she was of royal lineage.

Earlier this fall, male wasps (They have no stingers.) mated with any late summer born females. In the fall the fertilized female wasps, future queens, must find shelter to overwinter in if they are to survive winter. The wasp in my bedchamber had likely found its way into the house while it flew slowly through the spat of recent sunshine on the south side of the house. This is where our upper bedroom window is located. This house, built by my ancestors, is over a century old. Based on the autumnal influx of mice and wasps, I know there are cracks and crevices that help them gain refuge from the threat of winter.

There is an adage, that the better you get to know something, like a friend, a pet, a bird at your bird feeder, or a piece of land, the more you care for it. Oddly, the only critter that bonding rarely happens are politicians of opposing parties. Sad. But I digress. So silently I began to bond in a platonic relationship with this wee, lovely bedmate with her unique yellow and black striped pajamas.

The first flush of the morning sun spread on to our bed and illuminated the future queen. She barely moved and I began to wonder if it has been days since she has tasted October’s fresh air or any water or sustenance.

Sustenance for wasps at this time of the year is mostly sugars found in rotting apples or other fruits. During the heyday of summer, when the queen of their social colony is thriving and laying scores of eggs, the adult worker wasps are busy flying off and finding caterpillars and other insect larvae for a high protein food for the wasp larvae. Now that the egg season is finished, sugars are sought after more than protein. Wasps need to convert sugars to fat reserves to survive a long winter of hibernation.

Consequently, wasps and yellow jackets often frequent picnics in late summer and fall. They love sugar and they likely are pleased with America’s passion and addiction to soft drinks. Unfortunately when folks find these insects at the picnic table they usually react with violence and swat the innocent striped insects.

Ignoring these uninvited wasps, or gently brushing them away, will result in a calmer picnic or house. Admittedly the sting of a hornet or wasp is painful but none of them go around looking for folks to sting. It is simply a defense mechanism and if you swing madly at it, the insect is likely to feel threatened and they have no choice but to protect themselves.

With my new friend acting slow and confused, I decided to give her a royal ride downstairs to join me for breakfast. I got out of bed, got dressed and then rested my hand next to the wasp, still on the bed sheet. Very gently I nudged her into stepping onto my finger. With the wasp as my passenger, I made my way downstairs to the kitchen.

I gently grazed the wasp off my finger and on to the countertop while I put on coffee and fetched a jar of homemade grape jelly. I removed a dab of jelly and smeared it on the countertop two inches away from the princess wasp. In short order she slowly made her way across the countertop tapping her antennae like a blind woman tapping her cane down the sidewalk. The wasp paused at the colorful smear and then began to feed.

Fifteen minutes later, I pulled a stool up next to the wasp and set my hot bowl of steel cut oats and cup of coffee down nearby to join her for breakfast. The wasp clearly looked more alert and active as it slowly dined on the sugary high-energy breakfast.

To test its alertness, I moved my finger in close to her head. Her large abdomen, tipped with its stinger, and wings raised up like the hackles of a threatened dog. I pulled away and we both relaxed and dined in silence.

Suddenly, the future queen took to the kitchen airspace and slowly looped towards the dining room window. Her multi-faceted eyes had spied a fine day beyond the window. Realizing that if I spent more time with this potential odd pet that I might not have the heart to free her, I decided to fetch a water glass and envelope to catch it and release it outdoors.

Catching a wasp is relatively easy. You simply put the glass or jar over the insect and slide a stiff piece of paper, in this case an envelope, under the glass. The inserted paper becomes the floor of the temporary prison and the wasp can be carried outdoors.

wasp in jar

I stepped out into the sunny, but cool, morning air with my breakfast chum. I pulled the envelope away and the wasp swooped to the outside of the windowsill where it landed and began to groom itself by combing her front legs through the pair of antennae.

While releasing this future queen outside might seem like an act of assassination I think I’m giving it a better chance of survival than by subjecting it to the roller coaster ride of fluctuation indoor temps. I make up that an indoor bound wasp will use up its fat reserves too quickly and become one of those dried, dead wasps I wipe off the windowsill when I wash the windows in the spring. By freeing this wasp today she has some time to find another place to shut down for a long restful winter.

And I will find comfort that for a single morning I was prince to this leggy queen. Upstairs, my lovely lady and queen slept on blissfully unaware of the breakfast scandal.


Wasp Outdoors

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