Saturday, September 09, 2006

Loving Community

For a short while, we had shifted to a new home that had been lying vacant for quite some time. It was full of interesting creatures like geckos, roaches, 6 species of ants, at least 10 different types of spiders and two communities of paper wasps. The wasp nests were nestled into the air vents in the house's two bathrooms. As they were well out of easy reach, we decided to wait on "dealing with" the wasps and got on with clearing out most of the other house guests. The nearby vacant land had a few trees with a resident family of purple rumped sunbirds and even a rarely seen green agama lizard sporting an impressively long, brown-tipped tail.

A little research on our wasps revealed that these were members of the family Vespidae, subfamily Polistinae and probably of the Polistes genus (though no entomologist am I).

The adults feed on nectar while the young are given a diet of other insects' larvae making the wasps very important both as pollinators and as pest controllers.

After a week we realised that the wasps were not causing any problems - no one had been buzzed and though the bathrooms were in use, the wasps seemed to be minding their own business. As days went bye, we spent more time just watching them work. Superbly organised, there was daily progress on nest construction and we started to notice the young ones emerging and merging with the family community. there was even a powerful but gentle discipline maintained by the senior wasps. Juniors who did not get on with their work could be seen sitting just outside the nest area facing away from the nest for a few hours at a time till one of the older ones would come and nudge them gently back into the mainstream.

My son (about 13) had always been terrified of anything that carried a sting. Even he came round to taking bath without an upward glance! Soon he became the resident expert in capturing and releasing the few wasps that got confused at night by the tubelights and ended up in the living room or in one of the bedrooms.

When we shifted out after about 4 months of peaceful cohabitation, we (carefully) covered the vents up from the inside to try to protect the nests from whoever came in after us. The attempt was unsuccessful. When I returned to pick up the last few odds and ends after about a week, I found the netting removed, no wasp nests, and evidence of fire on the walls round the air vents.
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