Feeling a bit waspish

Outdoor Living

TENACIOUS Wasps are known for their voracious appetites and angry, unrelenting air assaults.

Country Sights and Sounds
Michael Kingdon

For obvious reasons I have taken keen interest in the wasp family that hang around the house, and in the interests of science even took to feeding them. Now they have me identified me as some kind of Great Benefactor, I find myself surrounded whenever I step outside. They are getting out of hand.
A cunning bottle trap took hundreds of lives in just a few days, and this simple construction continues its grim harvest. Still, I see no reduction in the general population. Other means of control must be explored. I wouldn’t like to eliminate them altogether. I’d just like them to stop bothering me.
The final straw came when I took my lunch into the garden, where I had been enjoying my book. You’d swear those voracious mini-beasts hadn’t eaten for a week, so keen were they on getting a taste of my sandwich. They came at me from all angles, as thick and as fast as the worst of hailstorms, and drove me to find refuge back in the kitchen.
Even there I wasn’t truly safe, for a full squadron somehow snuck in before I had time to slam the door. I chased them with the hoover and cleared the majority away. One more tried to escape through the window and was caught by the mother of all Daddy long-legs spiders, who has set up home there.
Now this was interesting. She deftly held the wasp at arms length with one crooked leg while tying its wings together with silk so fine it was almost invisible. The wasp was working frantically, and succeeded in biting through many rounds of silk in a vain attempt to escape.
The end was inevitable. It came when the captive was finally held still within that silken shroud and the fatal bite was delivered to the thorax. My wasp hummed a bit at that, a kind of scream, I thought, then grew weak and finally went to sleep, while outside battalions of its fellows batted at the window pane, evidently intent on avenging the life of their brother.
Once things had settled down a little I went to find their nest. It is under the eaves, either inside the wall or in the roof space. I suppose I could go into the attic with a torch, but such a thing would hardly seem prudent. A flamethrower would do the job. But flamethrowers and houses might not go well together.
I thought of the hoover again, which already emits an ominous, rather angry hum. If I placed the end of the pipe over the entrance hole surely every wasp within the nest could be evacuated. It seemed like a plan alright. What could possibly go wrong?
I thought of potential power cuts, of trying to fend off even one lone escapee while holding the hoover pipe in place, and of other possible calamity. Besides, what could be done with a hoover full of wasps?
I talked the matter over with James. “The good old bottle trap,” says he.
“No good. Tried it. Caught a bunch alright, but not enough.”
Well it turns out I’ve been doing it wrong all these years. Instead of having water in the bottle to drown my guests, I should leave it dry. Instead of baiting with strawberry jam, I should use a good handful of cat food. Nor is an ordinary bottle sufficient.
A five-litre plastic water bottle should be cut in two at the shoulder, and the top inverted and taped into place, so that it acts as a funnel. The bait goes into the bottle and the bottle goes as close to the nest as one would like to place it.
The wasps will find the bait alright. The angry protest of those imprisoned will attract others and no time at all I would have a full five litres of wasps, to deal with however I thought best.
So that is what must be done.
In the meantime we have some kind of wasp festivity taking place in the lily patch, where fermented nectar can be found. My little friends are having a great time, drinking their fill and falling to the ground perfectly intoxicated, where they lie on their backs with their legs in the air.
Remember, if you kill one it will release pheromones to stimulate its many fellows to come after you, which they will, darts at the ready.

Michael Kingdon formerly wrote these columns under the pseudonym John Shelley. A naturalist and keen fisherman, he lives close to the shores of Lough Carra.