Thursday, October 22, 2009

Life with German Wasps

I've been complaining of the yellowjackets that keep appearing in my dining room. I'm not sure where they get in, but once in, they fly around, burn themselves on the overhead light, crawl around on the floor, and eventually die. From time to time they venture into the living room, especially if I have a lamp on there. Now and then they buzz angrily past my head, which makes me nervous. And I've seen Orion gazing at them with deep fascination, almost like a cat ready to pounce.
Last weekend was the jackpot, entomologically speaking. In the space of two days, no less than ten of them found their way onto my dining room floor. While most of them were dead by the time I counted, a certain number were crawling about. I was mildly concerned about being stung, but more worried that Orion would incite one to sting his nose.
Of course, I was the one who got stung. I was minding my own business, which is the best thing to do around bees and wasps, but one of the yellowjackets apparently crawled onto my sock and got entangled in the surface (it was a sort of terrycloth-like fabric). The first I knew of this was the onset of a nasty sensation in my heel. I looked down and observed the creature--probably still stinging me.
Well, I've been stung by bees before, with effects from minor to fairly extreme (not, however, including anaphylactic shock), but yellowjacket stings were new to me. I knew that while bees die after stinging, wasps are able to sting again, so my main thought was to get the sock and yellowjacket separated from my skin.
That wasn't all that easy given that I was in pain and the sock was way down there on my foot. Sometimes one's foot seems remarkably far away from the rest of the body--mysteriously inaccessible--and I say that despite not being more than perhaps five or ten pounds over my ideal weight. But eventually I got the sock off and limped upstairs to the tub, where I washed the sting, applied a Czech insect-bite-and-sting remedy (all I had handy) and a bandaid, and hunted for the Benadryl.
As such things go, the sting wasn't appalling. It kept me awake for awhile that night, but not in agony. This was, I will say, the first time that Benadryl didn't knock me out completely--but then I've only taken it twice before, and not for stings.
The area around the sting, however, has continued to be rather itchy, and this finally led me to do a bit of internet research. Apparently quite a few people find that yellowjacket stings itch for long after the initial pain subsides. People even describe the sensation as making them want to rip their skin off. I'm glad to say that I am not in that position. I am, however, contemplating getting one or more of the remedies suggested by the various sufferers, which include household ammonia, baking soda (normally I do have this on hand), meat tenderizer, and hemorrhoid creams.
I also looked up yellowjackets with the notion of learning more about them. It turns out there are several species of similar wasp all going by this name. Postmortem examination of one of the corpses tells me that what we have here are German wasps, a fairly aggressive species that has mostly taken over from the native Eastern variety. Both types are beneficial insects so long as they don't come into direct contact with humans. They eat insect pests, but unfortunately they also like things like picnic food and garbage. Their fondness (and I might say especially the German wasps' fondness) for junk food and sugary things leads them to conflict with humans.
I don't actually keep either meat or many sugary foods on hand, but if the wasps are nesting in the wall of the house, apparently all I can do is wait until the frost kills them. Only queens, apparently, overwinter and nests are only used for one year in this climate.

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