Thursday, September 3, 2009

"The White-Faced Hornet-a Good Country Neighbor"

By Lou Jonas
(Originally published in the Piedmont Outdoors)

A teacher might envy the ease with which the white-faced hornet cant arouse immediate interest in the dullest of students.

Of course, its efficient attention-getter, the stinger, is seldom used, unless you are foolhardy enough to shake the branch of an apple tree where Vespa maculata has her nest. We have had large nests within a few feet of our door, at least two different years, and none of us except me was ever stung by a white-faced hornet (When I shook the apple branch.)

Of course, when the temperature hits 100 degrees or higher, it pays to be careful: wasps, like humans and other animals, get more short-tempered in hot weather.

This wasp has a more chunky build than most, and the white face and white stripes on a black background help to identify it.

The nest is not hard to identify, with its large size, after the colony is well-populated. Some measure as much as two feet in length in the South, where the warm season lasts longer.

In the fall, the old queen hornet in each nest has become senile, and is merely waiting for cold weather or a predator to finish her life. The young queens leave the nest, and winter under bark, or some other sheltered place, from which they emerge to begin a new colony the next spring.

Old nests are seldom used--the queen starts from scratch, chewing fibers from weather or partly-decayed wood, and builds a series of horizontal combs enclosed within a paper envelope.

Comstock said, "A small empty nest. . . is evidence of a tragedy. A queen. . . had started to found a colony. . . " but before she could rear a brood of workers to relieve her of the task of gathering food and paper, some predator such as a bird or a praying mantis had captured her.

Hornets eat spiders, caterpillars, and other insects. Wherever a farmer soaks feed for his hogs, flies are apt to gather, and there one can expect to see Vespa sitting on the edge of the barrel, revolving a fly in its "hands", nibbling around the edges like a kid with a tasty apple.

Vespa's speed is reported as 13.3 miles per hours, so a swift runner can escape the ministrations of aroused hornets, especially if his enthusiasm has been boosted by one or two injections.

Some experienced "hornet-escapers" recommend running through limber brush such as willow or hazelnut bushes, which, while swaying as a result of a man's swift passage, may whip the hornets out of the air, or cause them to ricochet and lose speed, or at least confuse them.

One article, at least, has been written about the ability of hornet venom to counteract rattlesnake venom, but the exact dosage was not specified (The best self-treatment for rattlesnake bite is still an ounce of prevention.).

Having known many veteran bee-keepers to extol the praises of bee venom (similar to that of hornets) as a preventative for arthritis and rheumatism, and knowing of experiments which were done at Montana State University, to discover the effects of wasp venom in the treatment of arthritis, one might speculate whether this readily-available medicine is not responsible, at least in part, for the good health most outdoorsmen enjoy.

Let us be properly grateful for these treatments we receive from our sharp-tailed friends.