There are very few encounters one may have with an insect that elicits as much fear, panic, and an absolute sensation of vulnerability, as having an angry, grotesque, and much-too-large-for-anyone’s-good wasp come flying out of nowhere straight toward your face when and where you least expect it. Actually, there is something more frightening: two f****** wasps launching an utterly unjustified assault on your face.
I recently had the most unholy of fortunes to experience such an attack. Returning one day to my dorm room – a sanctuary of tranquillity and refuge after a long day of classes – I opened the door and was greeted by a most unnerving hum. I began to investigate the source of the noise. Upon completing an inspection (and finding nothing) under my bed, I raised myself off the floor and turned around towards the window. I abruptly located the source of the sound. Unfortunately, the source – in fact sources – were hurtling themselves into my face. This is the part where everything went into slow-motion. I discerned the hellish features of two wasps, their thin waists followed by oddly enlarged stingers, and my impending doom. I dropped to the floor in an attempt to dodge the flying fiends, and managed to just miss them by a hair’s width. I glanced around, spotted and grabbed a towel, and righted myself, as the wasps swung around for a second assault.
The thin waists (or petioles) and augmented abdomens (on which ridiculously large stingers are attached to) are identifying trademarks of the wasps in the family Sphecidae. About one-and-a-half inch long, the wasps that randomly decided to terrorise me (and my roommates) were of the species Sceliphron caementarium, commonly known as the black and yellow mud dauber. Called mud daubers due to their ability to build nests with mud, these wasps are solitary in nature. The black and yellow mud daubers form nests by gathering mud into spheres, then shaping them into cylinders, which are then aligned together and covered entirely in more mud. The finished nest in around the size of a fist, and are found (rather inconveniently for us humans) on man-made structures such as under bridges, doorways, and windows.
Despite the fact that these horrifying creatures possess characteristics and appearances akin to some sort of ungodly love-child of a scorpion and killer bee, these mud daubers and most wasps in general are not considered as pests, due to the fact that they are rarely aggressive and seldom attack humans unless thoroughly provoked. Furthermore, unlike some other Hymenopteras that work in groups (ie the yellowjacket, which, when killed, releases a chemical that draws nearby yellowjackets to attack), the solitary nature of these mud daubers mean that you will probably never have to deal with a swarm of them (heaven forbid). In fact, wasps may be considered beneficial, as they can get rid of other arthropods that we (humans) likely find more disagreeable than wasps. Such as spiders. For example, one wasp that very spectacu-
-larly kills its prey is the tarantula hawk. Upon locating a tarantula, the wasp will sting it to paralyse it permanently. The wasp then drags the spider back to its nest, where it lays an egg within the spider and seals the nest. After hatching, the larva begins slowly feeding on the insides of the tarantula, and finally rips open the spider’s abdomen, a la the eponymous alien from Alien. Similarly, the black and yellow mud dauber paralyses a spider and places it in its nest, prior to laying an egg in the nest and sealing it. The larva then – you guessed it – feeds on the helpless spider while the larva grows. Mother Nature can be cruel.
Back in the room, I swung at the two wasps numerous times to no avail. The situation only became more dire when the two wasps, which had previously been flying around together, decided to split up and launch a two-pronged assail on me. I fled the room and closed the door before the wasps could follow. This was insane and ludicrous; I was laying siege to two wasps that I had seriously aggravated without realising it. After a ten minute wait, I cautiously opened the door to find the wasps stationary on the window. I proceeded to grab my shoe and smashed both wasps repeatedly not once or twice, but thrice. The wasps landed on the windowsill, still alive and writhing. After bashing them two or three or seven times more, they were finally gone. Triumphant, I scooped the remains and tossed them out the window. I had once again foiled an assassination attempt (not really) from nature!