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The shock of the sting

| 02 Jan 2019 | 02:03

For those who pay attention to accidents and coincidences, a hornet sting might be an occasion of interest. So when my wife got stung on the head by a hornet in September, it got my (and certainly her) attention. A basketball size paper nest was right there, hiding in plain sight on rhododendron branches about eight feet above the porch and driveway. Each trip to the car was now taken as a threat by the likely 300 white faced hornets just finishing off their life cycle. We learned to take the longer way around.

Besides the surprise and pain of the sting, there was the primal alarm. DANGER! YouTube offers many versions of Angry Man Warring with Hornets. Pseudo-scientific warriors with torches, foam, sprays, brooms and, the favorite, baseball bats. All take aim at the bulby grey buzzing alien in the yard, threatening children or just property rights. The frosts of early November render the hornet’s nests lifeless. No baseball bats are needed. The fertile queen has left and burrowed into some leaves to wait out the winter. And she will not return to the old nest.

In spring and summer, hornets help with pollination and feed on flies, caterpillars and ants. Ah, but they themselves, in that Great Chain of Being, are favored by the praying mantis, dragonflies, beetles, moths, birds, frogs, bats and more. And those soft, delicious little hornet larvae, tidied up altogether in the nests like so many Altoids, are hunted by skunks, raccoons, weasels and even humans, in Asia.

When I saw this nest again, in early November, the winds and rains had sliced off the bottom. It was still very intriguing, with that grey marbled paper fused around branches and leaves. In the open part, I could see the remnants of the hexagon cells, with a few dead larvae still attached. The architecture and construction of these nests is amazing: both strong and delicate, its beautiful honeycomb a symbol of life. How do they know how to do it? I clipped the branch it was on and it’s now above the worktable where I used to build furniture. It’s there to remind me of the fleeting order and beauty and inevitable disorder that follows. I look forward to the spring.

Daniel Mack