Stung by a wasp while clearing poppies
The ladybird poppies, fire-engine red with jet black centres, had flopped in the rain, their flimsy petals scattered across the path. Cutting back the plants, it took me a moment to process what was happening. A flurry of insects was circling my head and arms from a disturbed wasps’ nest. I was shocked by the intensity of pain from a sting on the end of my nose. Swabs of vinegar helped neutralise its alkalinity, but my cheek quickly swelled.
There are a lot of wasps about this year. I know of at least six nests around the garden. The entrance to one is in a stone wall, another under the bargeboard of a shed. One was found when thistle-bashing in the field, a fourth when clipping a box hedge.
A colony lives beneath our stone-flagged roof. There’s a resonating noise, audible in an upstairs room, as the wasps use their wings to fan air around the nest, regulating its temperature. The sound they create is like the rising and falling of voices in another room.
Built by the common wasp, Vespula vulgaris, these nests are hidden, tucked away in crevices or filling the chambers of abandoned mouse holes. When a nest is visible it is a beautiful object, a papier mache patchwork of colours from different types of wood.
During its construction, the insects can be seen rasping at wooden surfaces with their mandibles, antennae bobbing as they scritch-scratch while walking backwards. It’s a strange experience to hear this while sitting on a bench. The pulped wood is mixed with saliva and used to make an enclosed honeycomb structure where the queen will lay her eggs.
The emerging larvae are fed insects by female worker wasps. Their prey includes aphids and caterpillars, making wasps helpful to gardeners. They are also important pollinators of fruit and vegetables. In return the larvae secrete a sugary liquid for the adults.
By autumn, with no larvae left to feed, the workers look for a new food source, perhaps fermenting fruit. That’s when I will have to take care not to get stung again.