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Ground Hornets

Readers might remember my story about mistaking bees for hornets. Well, this time there was no mistake. We were using a chainsaw to cut up a fallen tree and the noise apparently got to be too much for one of them. A single hornet came specifically to me and introduced himself with a punishing sting to my ear. I responded to this sneak attack by doing a little dance and exclaiming “Darn!” or some other such thing, as my ear got red and swollen. Fortunately, my partner didn’t get hit and saw where the animal came from – a dead, hollow cedar tree just steps away. There was an angry cloud of hornets hovering around a large hole at ground level. We abandoned the job.

Hornets are ugly characters. We call the variety we encountered “Ground Hornets” because they typically reside in a burrow and will ambush anyone who innocently gets too close to the hole. Generations of grass cutters have suddenly and rudely been appraised of their presence by sudden, painful stings. They are also known as Southern Yellow Jackets (Vespula squamosa) and are a type of predatory wasp that lives in colonies with a social structure similar to bees. Meats and other proteins are favorite foods. They also like sugars and will hover obnoxiously around trashcans to get at discarded soda pop. Supposedly they kill harmful insects and help maintain the “balance in nature.” Its hard to see how this is so if they themselves are harmful.

For the next few weeks we fretted about what to do about the hornet colony. We didn’t want them to hurt anyone else. We expected them to quiet down as winter set in but the weather stayed above freezing and they didn’t entirely cease their operations. Finally one day we decided to counter-attack. We screwed up our banzai courage and armed our selves with fast-acting poison sprays and moved in. We tossed a few sticks at the tree to draw them out. Nothing. We tried again. Nothing. Then I noticed a honeycomb pattern on the ground next to the tree. It was a shred of the hornet’s paper nest. If I had to guess, an armored Armadillo reached up into the tree and ripped out the nest and had himself an insectivore’s tasty meal of hornet larvae. So much for this problem resurfacing in the spring. Thank you Mr. Armadillo. Now I have a new saying: “Nature takes care of its own for those who patiently wait.” It’s that balance in nature thing.

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