Doctor, Is There a Wasp in the House?

Submitted by Art & Barb Straub

Have you been ‘stung’ lately? While tending your garden or weeding the flowers, has a wasp, bee or spider been disturbed by your noisy presence and defended itself? There are more ways to be stung than by an insect, and this was the week that was. When a friend emailed mid-week and asked a favor, jumping at a chance to remunerate him for his contributions to our lives, we took advantage of the chance! To make a long story short, I was stung! Scammed! Wise old bird that I am, I let friendship get in place of wisdom. Fortunately, due to my astute partner, all turned out for the better, but my face is still tingling from the ‘sting.’

This is a ‘busy as a bee or wasp’ time of year. Industrious with their broods, pollinating insects make every daylight moment count, and for the most part, ignore quiet intruders . Sometimes their buzzing and odd behaviors catch one’s attention, such as in the case of Kevin Sr., Kevin Jr. and Peg Kamps of the Silver Lake area. While Kevin Jr. was digging a hole in the farmyard, an unusually large wasp was noted and captured. Yellow and black, over two inches long, the creature is among the largest of the wasps, but has interesting habits. The Kamps had discovered a fearsome-appearing Eastern Cicada Killer. Unique in size compared to other species of its ilk, Madam Killer was gathering food, cicadas, to begin an interesting life cycle. She was bringing home the bacon … irrr … lugging home a paralyzed cicada. That’s a chore, a cicada being larger and heavier than the female wasp. In that we’ve never tunneled underground to watch the ‘killer’ at work, the following information was gleaned from Wikipedia, research compiled by entomologist Howard Ensign Evans. With no help from the male, Mom female has its work cut out for her. (The males drive off intruders of their own kind we are told; are guardians of the female.). “The ECK begins its maternal duties by building a storage chamber in the earth, bringing up soil which forms a small mound around the entrance hole. Next, she stings a cicada, found in a nearby deciduous tree, lugs it home to its underground burrow, lays an egg in the cicada. The ‘killers’ eggs, hatch in a few days, and the wasp larvae have meals handy for two weeks. Larvae remain in the earth until the following summer as cocoons, then emerge and begin the process over again as cicada killers.” Thus, the cicada population is kept somewhat under control, as in large numbers, some cicadas in large numbers may damage young trees. Thanks, Kamps family, for your fascinating contribution to public knowledge.

Meanwhile, across country in Tyrone Township, another discovery was made at the rural home of Tiffany and Jason Loewe. The Loewes are in the process of remodeling a home built shortly after 1906. Upon removing an ancient porch, a wasp nest was discovered peeking through the old beams. However, this was not just your run of the mill ‘under the eaves,’ ‘hanging from a tree’ wasp nest. Tiffany and Jason recognized that this nest, built between layers of a wall, was HUGE!
They immediately felt that it should be saved for educational purposes, but what a chore to remove it intact! (Oh, by the way, the mansion of a nest was empty with no wasps guarding the ornate creation.)

The entire family, mom, dad, Riley, Eva, Emily and little Miles gathered about the porch remnants and began the arduous task of uncovering and preserving the enormous former wasp home. With crowbar in dad’s hands, each board was gently pried loose, nails removed and gathered, revealing a more than two foot by two foot by three-foot giant home…likely the dwelling of wasps for generations! In the very center of the wasp haven, lay a tiny walnut-shaped cup with 10 egg cells within. THAT’S HOW THE STORY BEGAN years and years ago. A solitary queen wasp had emerged during the spring, began chewing dead wood pulp, built a tiny domicile, laid eggs…a first generation of workers. Raising the first batch on her own, soon her wasplings were gathering food, while she went on building and laying more eggs. Thus, what was a tiny dream became a mansion with thousands of cells.

The wasp literature states that the queen and workers perish in November, and that the same nest is not used again. If so, how did the nest become so large? For how many years has it been in use? What is the specific species of its inhabitants? So many questions remain to be answered, perhaps there is someone in ‘Indy’ readership who can pass on their knowledge?

We thank the Loewe family for their contribution to education, the giant nest is being retained while ‘the plague’ passes over, in order that future young entomologists-to-be may benefit from its preservation.