Hanschen, a wasp! Really the first young slender wasp, which obviously just woke up this morning, and it’s buzzing away right now in my room! It flew in through the open window and immediately hurled itself against the closed upper pane. One inch below it the window is wide open, but it continues to bore away at the upper window and constantly keeps sliding up and down, back and forth, with an angry buzzing as someone else were to blame for it being so dumb. (from The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg, eds Adler, Hudis, Laschitza. London: Verso, 2011)
Either the wasps in my glass lean-to, otherwise known as my office, are direct descendents of Rosa’s fellow prisoner (the above was written in the prison term she served right before her death) or they all are that clueless. Of course, it may be a little of both. I can attest to the cluelessness, based on the behavior of the regular visitors to my office (witness picture above and below) and on what is either amazing stupidity or bravery in the approach of a single wasp to a hive full of bees with the intent of storming the battlements to reach the honey inside. I saw one such approach last Wednesday, resulting in a fairly serious throw-down by one of the guards. However, the wasp managed to escape and the bee staggered off to defend again.
Judging from this Wikipedia entry on the ‘Characteristics of Common Wasps and Bees’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Characteristics_of_common_wasps_and_bees), we seem to be enduring the extended stay of the Yellow Jacket. As you may note from the photos, they indeed like drinks, although there was no sugar in my coffee. Which leads me to believe that the Yellow Jacket philosophy right about now is ‘desparate times, desparate measures’ which would also account for the swim. I did fish it out of the cup, and like Rosa, showed it the door. At which point it promptly flew back in again.
The ‘desparate times’ theory is apparently not too far off: according to my Collins Beekeeper’s Bible,
When adult wasps feed meat to their larvae, they are rewarded with a sweet larval secretion. In the autumn, the number of wasp larvae decreases along with the sweet rewards. Adult wasps need sugar as their energy food and turn to robbing honey from beehives if they can.
Apparently, at least in the micro-biosphere of my yard, autumn has come early.
I know I shall be sorry for typing this, but I have yet to be stung by one, even though they are always flying about my face, so close that I can feel the breeze coming off their little wings. This doesn’t really square with Wikipedia’s classification of Yellow Jackets as ‘aggressive.’ But, the wasps in my yard don’t seem interested in feeding off of other insects. Of course, I don’t follow them around religiously. It’s more the other way around.
Bees do have predatory, wasp origins, but at a certain point turned away from predation to take up feeding from pollen and nectar (would this make them vegetarians?).
What say the Latin ancients on the subjects of wasps? I am having a difficult time of it matching Virgil up with wasps in particular (it seems as if bees and wasps are mixed together, but it could just be my bad Latin).
If we step away from Latin and Rome, we find one of the most notable references from Aristophanes in his play, The Wasps, in which he ridicules the government and law courts. Maybe the most notable brings us back to Italy, but not necessarily Latin: In The Inferno, Dante employs the wasp as a form of punishment, although the pain it inflicts doesn’t even rate a place in one of the circles of Hell. In Canto III, Dante and Virgil, before entering Hell, come upon the souls of those who lived only for themselves, neither committed to good or evil. It is their punishment to be eternally pursued by wasps and hornets:
E io ch’avea d’error la testa cinta,
dissi: «Maestro, che è quel ch’i’ odo?
e che gent’ è che par nel duol sì vinta?».
Ed elli a me: «Questo misero modo
tegnon l’anime triste di coloro
che visser sanza ’nfamia e sanza lodo.
Mischiate sono a quel cattivo coro
de li angeli che non furon ribelli
né fur fedeli a Dio, ma per sé fuoro.
(from http://italian.about.com/library/anthology/dante/blinferno003.htm, for translation see end of post)
I would always recommend a re-read of The Divine Comedy. And, I would also recommend the reading of Rosa Luxemburg’s letters. They certainly dispel the stereotype of ‘Red Rosa.’ Yes, she was fierce in her politics, but did you know that she was also a student of nature? And, of course, she was all about the Queen Bees. And, in this time of revolution and the overthrowing of old ways, one can ask, “where are the women?”
Bee Hive Update
Apiguard (Varroa treatment) in both hives Sunday August 28th.
Main hive, left the couple of frames with honey in the super, as we are leaving these to the bees.
Less chalk brood, although still one or two questionable looking cells
Swarm hive: Slightly more stores production; took queen excluder off to give them an easier time with Apiguard. In days following, noticed a bit more crawling around entrance to the hive, which at the moment I am attributing to their reaction to the Apiguard
Saturday 3 September
Reacting to the various alarm messages (received from Association and others) regarding starving bees, I decided that I had to give them some sugar feed (these alarm messages combined in my tiny brain with the continued crawling about and lack of winter stores in the swarm hive and the fact that the BI found one cell of starving larva in the main hive to create paranoia).
So with the help of Jo, opened the hives. In both the Apiguard had been completely removed from the little cardboard disks, which they had also started to nibble at. However, a bit of a to do in the main hive: The bees had started to chew away at the super frame that was positioned directly above the Apiguard, because I am assuming they were trying to get rid of the smell? (or they could be chewing the wax to move to another place in the hive?). Either I should have created a space over the Apiguard, or I should have put the cover board over the Apiguard, or….the list of what I should have done seems endless.
Anyway, took undrawn frames out, moved some to the side to fit the sugar. Went onto the swarm hive. All looked well, although still falling short of stores, so we gave them the bigger bucket of feed.
Closed everything up. I will add that while we performed all of these tasks in beesuits, we didn’t use any smoke at all, and the girls were fairly mellow.
The trouble started a bit later in the day at the swarm hive. The bees had stepped up their outside crawling to a considerable degree. However, I did notice that they seemed to be under some kind of attack from wasps (I can’t swear that we didn’t spill a bit of the feed). So, I assumed what with the Apiguard and the sudden interest from wasps (which have been regular visitors at the main hive), they must be on alert. It also doesn’t help that the weather has been so erratic. Anyway, I went in for a closer look as these bees have always been quite docile. All of a sudden one came flying out and hit me in the face, right on the temple, leaving a little reminder in the form of a stinger behind. Result: for the last few days one half of my face has looked like a fun fair attraction!
Ah, the beginning of autumn, that time of year when I would like to commit a few moody madams to one of Dante’s circles.
*Translation from Canto III
And I, who had my head with horror bound,
Said: “Master, what is this which now I hear?
What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?”
And he to me: “This miserable mode
Maintain the melancholy souls of those
Who lived withouten infamy or praise.
Commingled are they with that caitiff choir
Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,
Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.