Saturday, June 19, 2010

Meanderings: The Battle of the Wasps

My early years were spent in a Brooklyn tenement, insulated from the natural world. Wildlife to me consisted of flies, roaches, and the neighbor's dog. To see flowers, I had to sneak into the old campus of St. Francis College and risk being apprehended by the guard. Course, I did manage to grow a Morning Glory or two- spindly, short-lived things- in the window box on the fire escape. Later when I moved to suburbia, I was introduced to grass, yellow jackets, and the like. Nothing in my life up North, however, prepared me for the up close personal experience that is living with Nature in Florida.

No, I'm not going to go off on a paean to the beauty of the beaches, the seas of skies, or even a lament over the torrential rains every afternoon in summer or the brooding possibility of a hurricane. No, my scope is a bit smaller. Start with the ubiquitous lizards that wind up in washing machines or the palmetto bugs, or roaches the size of hamsters. Speaking of size, there are also spiders, all kinds of spiders, including big ones that look like pom poms and carry their young. Squish them at your own peril, as thousand of one day full-sized babies scatter in every direction. I know. There are frogs, mole crickets (scary) and phalanxes of mosquitoes. And snakes, lots of snakes, the National Geographic kind. You know, red and yellow kill a fellow kinda snakes. And did I mention the flies? Never mind, the no-see-ums are the worst, defying any and all insect repellents.

The one nice thing is the absence of the dread yellow jacket. There are few bees, only the fat, good-tempered true (to my mind) bumble bee. At least that was until my neighbor down the block put in a bee hive. I suspect it didn't work out for him, because I haven't seen one around lately, thereby putting the kibosh on my pipe dreams of suing him when the hubster keeled over from being stung. Alas. Back to the issue at hand. Wasps are everywhere: little wasps who tend to leave you alone and large, foul-tempered African-looking creatures who build tiny little nests, packed like Tokyo subway cars, in your mailbox. The former urbanite learns to combat these with a can of foam with a 25 foot reach followed by a quick flight to safety.

So this year, I spotted a wasp by the back door, not an unusual phenomenon. The next day, there were two buzzing around; the following, three. I began recon. They seemed to be coming from under the mouldering box truck by the back porch. Aha. Problem was they seemed to have built a nest on the underside of said truck. The prospect of infiltrating their camp on my back without easy egress was a weighty one. Still, sticking my courage to the sticking place, I went for my weapon of choice. Agh. Godamn, he did it again. He used up the 5 dollar can of Raid and didn't tell me. I run out to the store. All the while, He, the hubster, is insistent that they don't have a hive, that they are coming from foxholes in the ground. I don't believe him.

Armed with my newly purchased and pricey can, I'm still hesitant. I really don't want to suffer the death of a thousand stings. Something seems wrong anyway. A little research, and the dawning realization that hubby was right. Who ever heard of a wasp that doesn't build a nest? Now, how to neutralize what have now become dozens of wasps at the same time when they're not in the same place? The internet yields advice: they don't like wet soil, use soap and water, etc. The paramount consideration for me, however, is not to get stung. I wait for ideal weather conditions. Where is the daily rainstorm when you need it? Finally one afternoon, there is a break. Under cover of a shower, I grab the hose, snaking it ever so cautiously toward the truck. Drat! It falls just a tad short. I take my chances. Turn on the water and pray.

The next morning, I'm greeted once again by the invaders. Frustrated, I decide to consult my expert on all things Southern. Let's call him Buddy. I mean, they must have these things in Mississippi, right? Buddy is a font of quaint and sometimes questionable down home remedies, often involving petrochemicals. Got arthritis in your knee? Spray it with WD-40. Want to keep bugs away from the house? Create a motor oil barrier. Get my drift? But I'm desperate.

"What you got there is them old hornets," he informs me with a sympathetic shake of the head. " just take an old golf club and swing it, and you'll see them come after your ass." Huh? That's helpful. I shouda known better.

" One day, Jim Bob was playin' golf, took a swing, and that boy wound up with 15 stings. Only thing you can do... is use some of the dishwashing liquid, you know, Downy. Just pour it on down there and run. Don't dilute it, though, 'cause that syrupy thing gets on their wings and they can't fly."

That actually jibed with some of the internet stuff I'd read. But I'm still left with a problem: the reason the truck is behind that back porch is that like many of my husband's possessions, it died there and thus can't be moved. What now? Stay tuned. Same wasp channel. Same wasp time.


Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience in Oklahoma with a species the Okie Bugman called "the gardener bees". This little critters look like the image of the bumble bee of the Tuna cans with bodies of balck and yellow, but are a lot angrier and much more agressive. These particular kind of bees like to build their nests close to the ground and they found the perfect site in an old doghouse abandoned in my backyard for several years after my Great Dane named Chico, passed away.
We had forgotten about this old doghouse because it was kind of hidden away from view behind the backyard shed and with the passing of the years the wood underneath had rotten away.
One day my wife went near the doghouse and discovering the wood was kind of rotten, poked a stick underneath it and lo and behold, out of the hole came out a swarm of very angry gardener bees that attacked her mercilessly and sent her running a full speed towards the house screaming.
She finally managed to get inside the house not before suffering several painful stings on her breasts and arms. The bees were so angry that they kept attacking the glass screen door eventhough she was already inside.
I made a call to the Bugman and when he came he informed me that these bees were very agressive and they liked to send the workers to forage for food while some of them stayed behing looking after the babies in the nest.
I worked a plan where I dressed up in a motorcycle leather suit with a helmet on, made a big torch with a broom handle with an old tee shirt soaked in gas and proceeded to face them and destroy the nest with fire.
They attacked but I was impervious to their stings with the leather suit and the helmet and finally I was victorious and the nest disappeared in a fire storm worthy of a Viking funeral.
Afterwards, I drank a couple of beers to celebrate my victory and contemplated the burned nest with joy;however, my happiness was short lived because at around 5:00 pm the workers that had gone out hunting for food for the brood, came back and were flying around the backyard desperate looking for the nest that was now a big pile of ashes. I made the mistake of going outside but took the precaution of bringing the lit torch with me just in case. Sure enough the moment they saw me, the workers attacked with fury again launching fast dives at me only to find the burning flames of the torch meeting them everytime. It was funny to watch them go through the flames of the torch and after their wings were burned, they would plummet towards earth after a few feet. Finally after about 15 minutes of these attacks and torch encounters, I guess I burned all of them because I never saw them again.
So far here in South Florida we have seen a few lizards and iguanas but luckily no snakes, thank God.


rsnlk said...

Love it. I salute you. Still waiting for a good storm.