Queen of the house

Albert Nolan

Reporter:

Albert Nolan

Queen of the house

Despite his advancing years, a friend of mine remains very active in the outdoor world. 

A hard life on a farm doesn’t encourage a sedentary pension, but he enjoys the lack of pressure and the time to watch nature. During the summer he felled several trees around his farm. They were planted around thirty years ago as a warm insurance, but he has since converted to oil and had no need of the timber. I was offered a few loads, but with one of the warmest and driest Novembers on record it slipped my mind. 

A blast of cold air in December and a few calls saw a van full of logs arrive outside my door. Well seasoned, I stacked them by the coal bunker. I have often talked about the merits of a log pile for mini beasts, and over Christmas I got into the habit of stacking a few logs near the fire. Unlike some conifers they did not go out in a blaze of glory, but provided a constant flame and heat. 

We were sitting down one night watching a movie when a large insect appeared from behind the logs and passed over my head. It flew around the tree, back towards the light, and kept on circling the room. Its large shadow danced across the ceiling as I rushed to get a bug jar. An empty wine glass and a piece of paper did the job and soon I was closely examining a large queen wasp. For insect lovers the winter months can be lean times, so I was delighted with my catch. She made no sound indoors, but it must take a few minutes for all for faculties to kick into action.   

The queen hibernates during the winter and must have chosen the log pile as a safe and dry spot. Perhaps she had wedged in behind the loose bark. When spring arrives and the temperature rises she wakes up and begins the process of starting a new colony. Wasps cannot store food like bumblebees, so they all die out except for royalty. 

The heat from the fire must have stirred her to early from the slumber months. Her antennae twitched as she explored her confined world and at the strange creature peering through the glass. Her large body was connected to the head by a thin sliver and she had nature’s most recognisable warning colours of black and yellow. 

Queen wasps can sting and remain alive,  but this is only if they are really provoked. I touched her gently with my finger and as I had just been eaten crisps she took a keen interest.  

I needed to put her somewhere safe, so I decided on an old house across the road. It had been built around a hundred years ago using lime mortar and there was plenty of small dry holes. I carefully crossed the road and tipped her onto a protruding stone on the gable end of the house. She shook herself several times and then with a loud buzzing flew up through the branches of a willow tree. 

I think she will be fine as the weather is mild and there are reports of flowers blooming out of season and swarms of insects. I hope she finds a new spot and passes away the rest of the winter. 

I heard the kids calling and started to cross the road. A neighbour’s car passed by and I raised my hand to salute totally forgetting about the wine class. She beeps the horn and with the window half opened passed a quick comment about starting early.

Later on my friend who supplies the logs told me that he saw a queen wasp a few days ago. It was trapped in his neighbour’s car, and unlike mine that was captured and released he felt that this one would become a messy part of the daily paper.  

Sometimes the best gifts from nature and life are the ones completely unexpected.

Comments/questions to albert.nolan@rocketmail.com or 089 4230402. Also available to give walks, talks to schools, tidy towns, youth and community groups.