Wasps be Like…

👤Charlynn Toews 🕔Jul 31, 2015

Our good friend, my godson, has his birthday in August. Birthday parties involving wiener-roasts often happened at Kleanza Creek just west of Terrace, a shaded area beside cool running water in a lovely setting.

His mother and I were acquaintances, then we had boy babies six months apart, then we had coffee while the babies socialized, then we became friends.

At first the babies nicely ignored each other, plunked on the floor with an assortment of baby toys, playing in a parallel but independent way.

Then, a few months later, they noticed each other and began to grab whatever toy (or any object!) the other had, and we were forced to interrupt our fascinating conversation to intervene.

Next, as toddlers, they got up to mischief.  My kid was a slim shrimp at 18 months, while my godson, at two years of age, was tall and strong. I suppose they became bored with indoor play or the cartoon ended, because they decided to go outside. Godson opened the front door all by himself, and the two of them walked out into the world. We grabbed them before they got off the front porch.

My kid was 10, hers was turning 11, when we went to Kleanza Creek for another birthday party. My kid started whining and crying and I said, more or less, Calm down, What’s your problem, There are no bees on you, like that.

We left the perfectly FINE birthday party, and on the way back to Terrace I stopped the car to discover not one or two but FOUR August wasps UNDER his shirt. He was stung so thoroughly we stopped by Emergency and were prescribed Benadryl.

What’s with wasps in August? All spring and early summer we ignored each other in a parallel playtime, wasps doing their thing, we humans doing ours.

Wasps are social creatures, busy spending their days taking care of each other. The workers wasps cannot breed, so they help the Queen expand the nest and raise more young. They find soft-bodied invertebrates, chew them up and feed the developing larvae. Adult wasps cannot digest the food they catch because their gut is constricted by their thin ‘wasp waists’.  In return the larvae produce a sugar-rich spit the workers drink.

Later in summer, as part of their colony’s cycle, the queen stops laying: no more larvae, no more sugar spit. That’s the time of year I once observed a wasp land on my plate and start carving up a bit of my sweetly sauced barbeque chicken. “Help yourself, I guess,” I said. He noticed my food and made a grab for it.

At this turn in the cycle, the hormone that maintains colony cohesion is no longer produced. The worker wasps are disoriented and search for sweet foods like soft drinks or jam—putting themselves directly in people’s way. In August and September, it is the worker wasps that sting.

They are bored, with no work to do, and so wander around eating rotting fruit and tree sap. And because fermenting fruit contains alcohol, wasps become intoxicated and irritating.

When yellowjackets sting they leave behind a chemical marker that identifies you as an enemy of the nest. That explains the four of them ganging up on my kid!

Kids can’t stay babies any more than wasps can stay busy. There comes a time when they notice others, try to take their stuff, and get bored.

Irritating, hurtful, even dangerous: but I am glad to report that small children, and eventually even teenagers, usually grow out of this.