Perhaps it was the chill in the air, the fact I finally pulled out my collection of jumpers, or that I even considered the need for a jacket, but something this morning told me that summer really was on its way out. (If it ever really arrived this year anyway). However, in this quiet moment of reflection, my thoughts wandered to all the changes in animal inhabitants of my garden that are becoming apparent. The number of spiders has risen quite dramatically, whilst the number of flying insects has steadily begun to fall. Fewer bees can be found buzzing around the roses and, thankfully, fewer wasps will be arriving, uninvited into the kitchen. But, perhaps, I have been misjudging wasps, and if you can spare me a few moments, I would like to try and explain my (slight) change of view.
In a book that will in the future be referred to often on ‘tales of animals past’ Mind in the Lower Animals (1879), William Lauder Lindsay (Scottish Alienist and scholar of the animal mind), writes that man himself has ascribed the characteristics of irritability, ill-nature, spite and vengefulness onto wasps. And this in spite of their natural character which is quite the opposite – their domestic life is portrayed as ordered, quiet and clean.
A similar picture is presented by John Lubbock, in his 1882 book Ants, Bees and Wasps, who recounts the taming of a wasp he had raised upon hatching. So docile was this little creature that Lubbock was able to stroke and feed her, without any fear of being stung. Upon her death, she became a specimen at the British Museum.
Both Lindsay and Lubbock agree however, that the irritable, bad-tempered side of the wasp, is the side often seen by people. But this temperament is only a result of provocation – a result purely of man (and woman’s) own actions. Lubbock’s ‘pet’ wasp stung him once, out a fear, he recounts when he tried to contain her in a jar ‘for her own safety’. (They were traveling together on a train and Lubbock believed she would be swotted by the train conductor as he visited the compartment if she was flying freely around the carriage). And Lindsay says that the waving of arms and general hubbub that can arise from a wasp buzzing too near a human, frightens and angers the wasp – whose only defense mechanism is to sting.
So then, what are you suppose to do, when you find yourself the subject of unwanted interest by a wasp. I have to admit that I laughed when I read Lindsay’s suggestion. But, when faced with a wasp in the kitchen earlier this year, his advice popped into my head and I followed it. I turned to the wasp, and in a clear voice said, “Please will you go away”. And to my surprise, it flew straight out of the door. An interesting response, yes. A coincidence, probably. Yet, the next time a wasp appeared, I tried the ‘experiment’ again, and once again, the wasp flew outside. Due to the changeable weather this year, I only had about 4 occasions on which I could try this theory. But, each time it worked. But the laws of mathematical randomness do allow for these all to be coincidences.
I probably sound quite mad in recounting this story. I am quite convinced that the next wasp I encounter will no doubt not respond in the same way, and I will resort to the hand-waving, arm-flapping behaviour that is seen the length and breadth of Britain throughout the summer months. However, I hope that before I get to that point, I will have at least tried to be polite to the wasp!