Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Wasp Nest

One summer when we were living in Japan, we realized we had a wasp nest in our attic, just over the front door.

At first, there had just been the odd scout. Live and let live, we said to each other. The odd wasp won't hurt us. Our house was pretty much Grand Central Station for insects and other invertebrates, after all: we had sowbugs, cockroaches, earwigs, mosquitoes, centipedes, spiders, daddy long legs, and a variety of pet -- and free range -- crickets. But over the course of weeks, that scout found a few buddies and pretty soon we were seeing a dozen wasps a minute. I got out my dictionary, then the yellow pages, and found a couple of numbers for exterminators. But no one answered at the first place I called, and the people at the second company were rude and unhelpful. We put off doing anything about the wasps until my husband, taking in the laundry one evening, got stung on the hand. His fingers and knuckles swelled up so badly it looked like he was wearing a boxing glove. "Don't get stung again," the doctor advised him.

I called the first exterminator again and got a recorded message. I hate recorded messages even in English-speaking countries, but in Japan they gave me cold sweats. Nevertheless, I did the necessary and left my message. I'll bet they had a field day with it when they played back the tape: Hello. I live in Abiko. There is a wasp nest over our front door, inside the, um, attic. We hope you will be able to get rid of it. As soon as possible. Please. Like an idiot, I hung up before giving them our number and had to call back.

A week passed and the exterminators did not call us back. As I was getting more and more nervous about one of the kids getting stung, I decided to take matters into my own hands. My husband could not do it given his allergy; clearly, I was going to have to figure something out and do it myself.

"You've got to get rid of the queen," a friend at work told me. "If the queen is there, no matter what you do, you'll still have wasps."

"Wait for the exterminator to call you back," another friend advised. "You'll get stung if you do it yourself, and it's messy, nasty work."

But I am nothing if not pig-headed, and besides, I liked the idea of saving us the hefty extermination fee. I knew where the hole was; I figured if I blocked it up, no wasps could get in and I would starve the queen.

But first, I had a cunning plan: I would take out as many soldiers as I could. This way I could gain access to the entry hole without fear of being swarmed while I plugged it up.

I had noticed that the wasps became active at an early hour. Opening the sliding glass door at five o'clock in the morning, I stood on a table, switched on the vacuum cleaner, and waited. Soon, an eager wasp soldier came flying towards the nest. Holding the vacuum cleaner nozzle aloft, I put it up against the entry point. The wasp was sucked right into the vacuum cleaner. Banzai!

"Is it working?" my husband asked dubiously from the safety of our bedroom.

"Yes!" I shouted back. "They're going for it!"

That first wasp was followed by another, then another, then another. All of them dived obligingly into my nozzle without the slightest hesitation.

Five minutes passed and still the wasps came in a long, steady procession. One of our neighbors, walking past in a business suit, glanced at me in amazement as I stood there shouldering my nozzle, waiting for the soldiers to start thinning out.

But they didn't.

I think I spent an hour, all told, sucking up wasps. My back ached; my arms and shoulders were on fire, and still the wasps came, one after another, to tumble into the Great Unknown of my nozzle. If I hadn't finally given up, I do believe I would be there still. One thing I can promise you is that there are an awful lot of wasps in the world.

As I left for work a few hours later, they were still lining up to get into our attic. And we needed a new vacuum cleaner.



Gorilla Bananas said...

I've seen angry wasps chase people for hundreds of yards. Poisoning the nest might have worked better.

Carole said...

That's a lot of wasps. And it reminds me of a scene out of The Memory Keeper's Daughter.

Very brave Mary, foolish, but brave. You could give the Cowardly Lion some lessons.

Kara said...

that doctor should be horsewhipped. he couldn't give that patronizing advice without a little vicodin prescription on the side? useless!

marshymallow said...

We've had wasps nests at four houses now, but *knock on wood* none of us has ever gotten stung. Actually, my dog really likes to chase them, and eat them. This totally grosses out my mom, who then sends my brothers out with a couple cans of Raid and a broomstick.

Mary Witzl said...

GB -- Wasps could definitely outrun me, though I only got stung a few times when I tried to put on shoes with wasps wintering in them. As it turned out, poisoning eventually worked just fine. Fortunately, our vacuum cleaner was already on its last legs...

Carole -- Foolish, yes. Brave, no. Oddly enough, I have been brave in the past, but this was not one of the times. I'm not really afraid of stinging insects. I suspect if I lived in a tropical country I'd develop a more sensible attitude.

I have a copy of The Memory Keeper's Daughter, so I really should read it! But my stack of books to be read is about as high as my chin now...

Kara -- Actually, I was indebted to this doctor: our kids' nursery school teachers kept insisting that their mosquito bites (which looked awful) must be something worse. The doctor backed me up, saying that Caucasian skin reacted differently to mosquito bites. And I think he did actually prescribe some pretty strong stuff, though he was VERY close-mouthed. He could easily have been a ventriloquist.

Marshymallow -- I now know several people whose dogs snack on wasps. Your dog must be highly skilled; at least two friends have had to take their dogs to the vet because of wasp stings. I'm not a big fan of using insecticides, though. I tend to go for the rolled-up newspaper method.

Kim Ayres said...

Superb :)

Still, I can think of worse uses for a vacuum cleaner, like when my teenage stepdaughter was sick in her bedroom so decided to use the hoover to clean it up...

marshymallow said...

I suppose few people are fans of insecticides, but it works and the nests have always been in windows so that little else other than the nest and our house get sprayed.

They always tried the broomhandle first, though, I think just to prove that they were macho.

The Quoibler said...


I love the idea of the neighbor watching you, probably thinking, "She's nuts. I'm living next door to a crazy lady."

Wasps. Shiver.

laura said...

One summer as a teenager, my bedroom was besieged by wasps. One morning I woke up to; wasps crawling up my curtains, marching up my bedspread, and lazily buzzing around my room! I was hysterical and like your husband, one sting and I puff up in a very scary way!! But I like the vaccuum cleaner idea which I already use for spiders! Yuk!

Charles Gramlich said...

I usually use some kind of spray to kill the nest and then the wasps will disappear. Sounds like this was one big nest, though. I try to get them as soon as I see the first one or two wasps around.

Robert the Skeptic said...

We had just such an invasion in our home guest room. In this case they entered the room from the attic by chewing a hole through the drywall in the ceiling.

Fortunately we were able to close the bedroom door and isolate the invasion to the one bedroom. Looking in the bedroom window from outside, they swarmed like a living tornado... hundreds of them.

It took two visits from the exterminator to quash the invasion. Fortunately no one was stung.

That had been our son's bedroom; he had just moved out to college the week before. We now call that guest room "the Bee Room"; appropriately decorated in the theme. It's where Kara stays when she visits.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- Oh, bless her -- she didn't really, did she? That is absolutely something my kids would do. Not that exact thing maybe, but something similar. Then again, I know a woman who tried to vacuum up an entire colony of wasps...

Marshymallow -- Believe me, this is the route that we finally chose. In fact, the exterminator called me back and I practically scared him I was so eager to get him to come and do the job.

Angelique -- Arguably I WAS. He gave me a funny look every time I saw him after that. He probably thought I was engaged in some weird foreign ritual -- vacuuming the morning air.

Laura -- Don't try to vacuum up a whole swarm of wasps. Trust me on this: your vacuum cleaner will stink to high heaven. We really did have to get rid of ours. But what an awful experience -- waking up to a room full of wasps!

Charles -- Yours, of course, is the sensible, intelligent, traditional method, and after the fact EVERYone reminded me that they'd recommended this. One wasp on its own may not seem like a threat, but it's scouting for a home, getting ready to call the sisters, cousins and aunts. But I just have to do things my own way -- it's like a curse. And you should have seen the size of the nest when the fellow finally did come to spray it. It was just massive.

Robert -- I like the fact that you decorated the room in their honor! But two exterminations to get rid of them? Wow! Too bad there isn't some way of just making them change their minds and finding another place to do their business. I had no quarrell with the wasps until they stung my husband and started bringing in an entire city.

Angela said...

Gotta love those doctors: "Don't get stung again." lol

We used to get wasps every year trying to get into the crack between the brick columns that cap each side of our garage. I'd sit out there and zap them with a foam can, but like you, I finally realized there were waaaaay to many for me to battle. I got the cement out, mixed some up and walled them in.

Now that was interesting, because it was a long crack and took me some time to do it. Of course, more wasps are flying to and frow, trying to understand what's happening to their convienient front door. I probably had about twenty or thirthy of them flying around me as I calmly walled them in. I just kept my calm, didn't make sudden movements and didn't show anxiety. I don't know where I heard it, but someone once told me that bees can pick up on emotions. I have no idea if it's true or not, but I was able to get the job done without being stung.

Of course, I run into a friend who's having a wasp problem. I tell her what I did and she figures that's a good idea. She gets her hubby to wall them in like I did....

....and about an hour later, starts noticing wasps IN her house--they'd found a gap somewhere in the interior walls.


Those guys are determined, I guess, so it's probably not a good idea to wall them in if their getting in close to your house, lol.

Linda D. (sbk) said...

We had bees in our basement a few years ago - it seemed they were coming in through some duct work, but we couldn't figure out exactly where and we didn't know where the hive was.

The exterminator refused to come out until we figured out where they were coming from so we were pretty much on our own.

So I went down with a good strong book (I believe it was Dr. Seuss) and started squishing them, one by one. Endlessly. I spent hours down there every day killing bees with my trusty book and squashing them with my boots.

And we finally found the hole. Clever girl that I am, I plugged it up so no more could get in -- but that meant they couldn't get out either. So I just kept killing them. The kids were impressed with my bravery, but by the end of the week, they thought I might be going slightly batty and was perhaps enjoying the 'thrill of the kill' a little too much.

And morbid creature that I am, I kept count. 93 bees died that week. And you know what? Even though it was a little bit fun, I wouldn't EVER want to do that again.

Carolie said...

"I only got stung a few times" she says. Wow, Mary -- you're fearless! I've gotten over most of my fear of honeybees with much work. I'm still trying to concentrate on the grace of wasps, but it doesn't seem to help. I'm irrationally and absolutely terrified of them. I see you as St. George out there with your long sword of a vacuum hose!

Then again, some of my admiration may have to do with your choice of weapon. I absolutely hate to vacuum -- it's like dragging a dead pig around on a rope. Of course, I'd have to throw out the vacuum after your wasp battle, regardless of the vacuum's condition, simply because I'd be so afraid to open it up to discard the bag, and I'd be convinced wasps would fly back OUT of it into my house!

Ello said...

Ok I have a carpenter bee story about how they had a nests in the attic above my daughter's room and how they burst out as she was napping and how thank god I happened to pop by to check on her just as the first bee popped through and I shrieked and got her out of there and slammed the door!
Oh this story brought back memories!

Mary Witzl said...

Angela -- That is a great story, though I am sorry to hear about what happened to your friend's house. As you can imagine, I didn't pass my vacuuming tip on to anybody. In fact, I kept it to myself, deciding that I would tell the tale when I wasn't quite so ashamed. If you'd told me about plastering up the hole, I would absolutely have tried it. I'm calm and cool around bees and wasps myself, for exactly the same reasons you describe -- I am convinced that they can smell fear. It's cockroaches that get me lively.

Linda -- Your exterminator sounds like the first one I called. They told me to find the nest myself, then they would come and kill the wasps. The problem was that our attic was not accessible; there was a tiny crawl space and it was really icky up there. I asked them if they couldn't do that for me and they got very sniffy. The man I eventually called laughed when I told him that and said that his fellow exterminator was lazy and irresponsible if he expected a client to go looking for the nest. I had great respect for him, especially when he pulled out the huge, great, trailing wasp nest. Ick.

Carolie -- I hate vacuuming too, and dragging a dead pig on a rope is as good a description for it as I can think of!

I'm generally not courageous! Oddly enough, I am okay with potentially dangerous creatures like wasps, snakes and rodents, but you ought to see me around cockroaches. I know that it doesn't make sense, but there it is.

My poor husband got the job of dumping the wasps. They were all very dead and stinking to high heaven. He wasn't too pleased with me for a while after that...

Ello -- Eek -- a wasp anywhere near a baby makes me VERY nervous! Good thing you got your baby out in time!

Our daughters both loved insects and I used to have to warn them that bees and wasps could sting. It sounds weird, but it's true. They had all sorts of insect pets -- big kuwagatamushi (not sure how to say it in English) and stag beetles. We kept them in little cages and fed them fruit.

Kim Ayres said...

I'm sure the wasps didn't then stink out the house every time you used the hoover for the next 6 months though.

In fact we only found out about it when we next used the hoover and the the smell was suddenly blasted around the room

The Anti-Wife said...

Yuck! Hate those suckers. I used to have old railroad ties in my back yard as part of a small retaining wall. Yellow jackets took up residence in one of them and I accidentally ran over them with the lawn mower. They were pissed. They chased me almost to my street. I had several stings and the mower stayed in the back yard for a couple of days. I had to have a company come and get rid of the railroad ties to get rid of the nasty things. Yuck!

Katie Alender said...

Great, now my skin is crawling!

Winston goes to the vet for bee stings. Apparently dogs get less resistant every time they're stung. you'd think after a while he'd learn that bees aren't for eating...

Susan Sandmore said...

Really scary! How many wasps are in a next? I wouldn't like to have been the one to change the vacuum cleaner bag.

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- Oh God, the things that kids will do! I can imagine the smell of your hoover, but I have to tell you that a vacuum cleaner full of dead wasps in summer does not a pleasant fragrance make. In fact, they smelled like dead fish. The husband was not pleased with me for a long time after that, and with good reason.

Anti-wife -- Poor you! If I'd heard your story BEFORE my mad adventure with the hoover, I would no doubt have abandoned my cunning plan and waited for the exterminator to call me back. But I have to say that there was something deeply satisfying about watching that long line of wasps eagerly diving into my nozzle.

Katie -- Today I talked to another woman whose dog eats wasps and bees -- and usually manages not to get stung. I don't see how he does this, quite honestly, but she has seen him wolfing them down any number of times.

Susan -- I didn't count, but I would not have been surprised if the number hit three or four hundred. It felt like a lot more. And the nest that I eventually watched the exterminator pull out of our attic was huge. And very, very icky.

-eve- said...

WOww... I'm surprised that it worked so well! It's a cool story... I applaud your perseverance (I'd have done the same, and been wondering how long more to hold out ;-))

Mary Witzl said...

Eve -- It really was kind of thrilling to watch all those wasps dive so eagerly into my vacuum cleaner. I felt mean, but then I remembered my husband's swollen hand. That helped me keep my nozzle held high.