Sit with friends in any garden for a few hours, and someone will encounter a wasp. The maligned flying demon who weighs less than a four-inch strand of a human hair (wasp 20mg – hair 60mg) brings fear to the bravest of people.
The yellow and black striped insect fighter-jet can sting multiple times. The strength of its venom varies from common wasp stinging nettle sore to European hornet injected acid painful. However, the possibility of being hurt is pretty low. If and only if it is left alone. They rarely settle on a humans skin, because we are not sweet and wasps love sweetness and small creatures. Why is the arm-waving human stung? Most often because the lightweight wasp becomes trapped in the fine hairs on arms and legs! By standing still or ignoring the wasp, it will fly away.
Unexpected and painful encounters occur in the home during autumn. The so-called sleepy wasp falls into clothing or behind an object, and an unfortunate human is stung by the unseen insect. Our striped friend enters the home is dying and searching for food. Our homes are sweet fragrance traps. You see, all wasps die before winter of starvation. It is only the fertilised queen which hibernates and begins the life cycle the following year.
The nest is only used once. And gardeners know it is best to leave the wood pulp home alone if the wasps are not causing problems. Of course, the nearer a human house, the higher probability the colony will be destroyed. The social wasp’s too-ing and fro-ing to the nest are because they a tasked with providing food supplies for the growing wasp grubs: there is no interest in the panic-stricken human. Good gardeners understand wasps have immense benefits in the ecology of the garden. It feeds on grubs and parasites which damage vegetables, fruit and flowers. And yes: the wasp does damage fruit: but as in all of natures wonder, there is a balance. Most orchards suffer less damage from the feeding wasp than the potential of fruit parasite, which is controlled by the wasp.
The wasp is a loner, can be dangerous instilling fear by reputation. Incidentally, the so-called social wasp has an average lifespan of 17 days. And once it leaves the nest, it lives a solitary existence. Once understood, you realise the little insect is of immense benefit to humans. It is castigated for one reason – its ability to sting and cause pain. Some people believe it is a useless parasite (they are misguided) and cannot even pollenate plants. Which in most instances is correct, there are of course exceptions to every rule and some species of wasp do have hair and feed on the nectar of flowers. The majority of the species feed on small insect and larvae.
The wasp is a hard worker and makes an immense contribution to the health of our cultivated land, crops and orchards. You may not like their tough-guy attitude, but one has to respect their solitary dedication to their instinct. Few will love them for who they are, and most will hate them for what they are not.
The bee is a tricky fellow to categorise. Bees are flying insects related to wasps and ants, known for their role in pollination and, in the case of the best-known bee species, the western honey bee, for producing honey and beeswax. The honey bee has become an essential aspect of worldwide pollination of plants. Insecticides, certain fertilisers and changes in farming techniques have decimated the colonies. However, a lesser-known and more concerning reason for the decline in number is Global Warming. When combined, man’s interference (chemical, farming practice, lack of orchards and global warming) with nature has decimated forty-per cent of the worlds bee population. The honey bee has become humankind’s saviour. Once the bee is lost, the reality is unthinkable. Without the bee’s pollination of plants, some types of crops, fruit and vegetable supplies will become threatened.
The social aspect of the honey bee’s life cycle is a paradox. Its habitat is a social beehive: reliable and diligent and the hive can be a disadvantage! An incubator of disease and perfect home to some species of bee parasite. Although the bee inherits immense strength from its social integration, the proximity of bees within the hive means a mite or virus can wipe it out in weeks. And there is another weak aspect: the reliance on the government of the beekeeper and the beekeeper’s practice. A poor beekeeper has unhappy bees and unruly bees rebel.
The honey bee is more fragile than one imagines. A poorly sited hive will often result in angry bees. Hives close to a pathway in busy allotments or places where there are high-frequency noise results in unhappy colonies. Derek Jarman wrote of his angry bees on many occasions. He realised they became agitated shortly after weekends when many guests visited him at Prospect Cottage. And their fragility results in anger: My friend Harold Palmer remembers a cow being stung to such an extent, it had to be shot by the vet on site: after it strayed into an orchard and knocked over a hive. Once the bee stings its venom sends out an ‘being attacked’ aroma: Harold’s cow had little chance. The beautiful insects need calm and peace, and when they are in agitated environments, they are dangerous companions.
Bees living in the wild (the ones whose honey cannot be harvested) are to be encouraged and nurtured. Every opportunity to offer a place of safe refuge should be taken. Although this is interference with nature, it is one which has to be considered. Providing bee hotels is a way to boost bee diversity in the garden: the method attracts solitary species. Solitary bees lay their eggs in hollow cavities, leaving a small supply of food for the larvae to eat. The larvae then hatch, pupate and emerge from the stems. Always position bee hotels in full sun. And a good bee house (or hotel) will have wire mesh one inch or so infront of the tubes to prevent birds from feeding on the larvae.
The inhuman race is in jeopardy from many channels of attack: similar to the pollinating bee. Virus, disease, war, anger and environmental agitation are some comparisons. One should remember the bee’s ability to fertilise plants is more critical than the harvesting of honey. But wait! Is this true? If there were no demand for the honey, there would be fewer bees: so the honey is an essential aspect of the equation. One could consider living a comfortable and healthy life is better than accumulation wealth. But Wait! Is this true? Without consumer demand we would need fewer production facilities, resulting in less employment: demand for goods is part of the social-economic equation.
Bee’s are fragile and to a degree, rely on a symbiotic relationship between humankind and the honey factory workers. It is a relationship that is essential for mutual survival. We will do well to consider the lessons learned by examination of the bee colony. It survives through instinct and following an agreement with nature. Each bee knows its place and understands its part in the hive’s success. Should humankind learn to appreciate most live in a social beehive? And as the human beehive has grown beyond the mother Earth’s natural capacity to feed its population, the evolution inevitably means controlling the way the hive is allowed to live? And it seems most are uncomfortable with those who tend the human hive.
Sometimes the bee is mistaken for a wasp. Being at a distance from or poor eyesight, are reasons the mistake is made. One is seen as dangerous the other as beneficial. And yet, the truth is both can strike a painful sting. And both are beneficial to humankind. One the solo predator, an unsung gardener’s hero. The other a provider, a slave of humanity, exploited by the governing beekeeper. The maverick human is often misunderstood and feared: although they work to great benefit of many people. The fight pilot, the soldier, the scientist and industrialist: all have the potential to kill: all have the ability to save humankind from disaster.
There is no defined message in this essay. It is one written as a cathartic exercise: one which considers natures messages guiding thoughts. So many believe they should live forever: when, in probability we are part of natures evolution. The paradox is humankind’s longterm survival is threatened unless we accept the fragility of our existence, there is little hope of long term security: therefore we must live the best we can, given the tools and knowledge availble.
We know of the bee’s plight and do nothing. And yet every garden has a place for a bee hotel. The wasp is seen as a threat, so it is killed and falsely identified as a danger. And yet the two insects are related: the same but different. For most of the time they live within their environment without conflict. Wild animals, insects: indeed all wild species have no thought toward humankind other than seeing man’s silhouette as a danger. They live with the threat of unforeseen danger without wavering from their daily tasks. As with all creatures, they follow the path of life. Birth – existence and death. The Earth provides the environment for all life: giving and supporting each creatures instinct and individual ways. The result is positive evolution when left without interference and death when mankind interveans. When there is no interference with natures evolution all flows to the benefit of the ‘whole ecosystem’. One impatient species live opposed too, and has forever lost its real nature. This selfish, impatient and greedy species live in fear of the inevitable outcome of their diseased, ravaged and failing social beehive.
Unknown friend, you may comment: ‘I already know this: it is boring’, and the reply is ‘So what have you done to rectify the situation? What have you taught and how have you cared for your children? Need, greed and self? Or Give, kindness and share?. What do you contribute, and how do you support nature? Do you love the bee and kill the wasp? Do you find fault and demonstrate failure? Or do you seek the best and demonstrate success? Can you accept your fragility?’ Are You Wasp or Bee?