Hornets, and toodle-oo for now

About three weeks ago, I was in the garden and I saw a largeish brown and yellow insect fly past which I thought looked like the right general size, shape and colours for a hornet… but I thought that couldn’t possibly be right, and it must be some kind of hornet mimic — a large hoverfly species, or (more excitingly) a hornet moth or one of the bee hawkmoths. But I almost immediately lost track of it.

And then, ten days ago I was in the local park, standing on the little walkway over the lake looking for dragonflies, and again I saw an insect-that-looked-surprisingly-hornety, and again it didn’t wait around for to get a good look at it. So you can imagine how pleased I was a hundred yards later when I came upon this sign:

I should probably explain at this point, for all you norteamericanos, that I don’t mean something like your bald-faced hornet, which looks like an attractive little beasty but still a fairly typical wasp. No, I mean the one-and-only original, authentic, European hornet. Vespa Crabro. They say: seven stings to kill a horse, three to kill a man and two to kill a child.

This catchy little bit of folk-wisdom turns out to be rubbish, as a lot of folk wisdom does; apparently it’s only a bit more painful than any other wasp sting. But it captures something of the mystique around the hornet. It is, in the end, just a wasp, but it’s a very large wasp; it’s about twice the length of other British social wasp species, a great big bulky brown and yellow thing.

The reason I was so surprised to see them in south London was that I was under the impression that they were uncommon to rare in this country, and certainly unlikely to turn up in suburbia. But increasingly as you get older you find yourself wrong about things not because you learnt them wrong in the first place, or because you misremember them, but because the facts changed when you weren’t paying attention. And apparently hornets, which in the 60s were largely confined to the New Forest, have been spreading gradually for some time and particularly rapidly in the past ten years.

Who knows, maybe it’s global warming; but even if they are a portent of doom, they’re still a great insect and a very pleasing addition to my garden list.

And, fyi, I’m going to France tomorrow. Just for a week. So I probably won’t be posting, although I suppose if the place we’re staying has wifi I might blog from my phone.

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Hot wasp

I saw one of these parasitic wasps in the garden…

… which turns out to be Gasteruption jaculator. Nice, innit?

Because it was long and thin with a light tip to the ovipositor, it looked sort of like a small, delicate blue-tailed damselfly when it was flying around the flowerbeds.

» the photo is © nutmeg66 and used under a CC nc-nd-sa licence.

Napowrimo #28: bees and wasps

Honey, of course, is made by bees
but some may not have heard
about the hives of Cornish wasps
that make the lemon curd.

~~~

a bit late, but at least I’m back to only one behind schedule.

More vespal entertainment

Sherry mentioned my wasp nest on her blog and via the comments was revealed this hand-made hornet’s nest by papermaker Gin Petty. You can read her full account of making it here.

And browsing around Flickr I found these pictures by Andrew Dill of a wasp nest built on a window:

Here’s something I learned today. ‘Hymenoptera’ (i.e. bees, wasps and ants) are not called that because of all those virgin workers, as I’d always vaguely assumed. Rather it’s

from Greek humenopteros ‘membrane-winged,’ from humēn ‘membrane’ + pteron ‘wing.’

Which perhaps I should have realised, since Hymen wasn’t god of virginity but marriage.

And here’s a good word: haplo-diploid.

Wasp nest super close-up

We finally had enough sun to make photography a bit easier. Here’s another wasp nest close-up. It’s striking how different the colours look on a sunnier day.

Wasp nest

The plumbers found an old wasp nest in the attic. Wimbledon has had its usual effect on the weather, so the light isn’t great for photograpy, but during a break in the rain I tried taking a few pictures. The whole thing’s about 2 foot across. Here’s a close-up: