What’s all the buzz?

Editor’s note: This column was first printed in August 2015.

He saw it before I did.

Well, it was under the lip of the carport and that isn’t a place I go very regularly. Firewood in the winter and some storage there but, for the most part, it isn’t a spot I pay much heed to.

Till, that is, I saw the nest.

Bees’ nests do show up occasionally. I remember one so large — and in the very highest corner of the house — that an exterminator had to be called. (The garb in “E.T.” really wasn’t that far out.)

I can’t say I’m terribly enthused about sharing my home and environs with bees. They’ve gotten me more than I’ve gotten them but they serve their purpose and I do enjoy the flowers and acknowledge their responsibility there.

The nest of the paper wasp, however, was new to me: a large sphere striated in delicate shades of tan and beige, quite unlike anything I’d seen. I think I knew immediately what it was though always seek confirmation. It was fall by then and didn’t appear terribly occupied but who knew? There was just this one hole and that, forbiddingly black, didn’t look all that inviting.

I checked it a number of times during the following days. Can’t be too sure, you know. Nothing seemed to be changing but could I be absolutely — truly — sure?

Nothing much happened — except winter came. My forays to the carport became fewer as the snow piled up and after a while I confess I forgot the nest.

It wasn’t until early March that I visited it again. Certainly by now, its occupants had to be gone. Right?

I felt safe to investigate. At a distance.

With a very long stick I knocked it down and then apart. Perhaps that’s when I really did recognize it for the layers of “paper” were obvious. And, inside all that, lay the perfectly shaped hexagon holes of a comb. Nature reveals its beauty over and over in so many ways.

Minor was right beside me to investigate. As if he’d pass up any chance to see and taste something new. Nosing it at first carefully — very carefully, he did finally try a bite. No thank you.

Guess I know more about the birds than the bees for I found myself wondering where they go during the wintertime. Do they migrate? No, silly, they hibernate.

So what’s the difference between a bee and a wasp? If I’m going to get educated, I might as well keep going. They look totally different for starters: bees have round hairy bodies and legs while wasps as smooth with a definite waist. Bees are pollinators while wasps are predators eating other insects such as caterpillars and flies. They also have a strong preference for beer. And a bee’s barbed stinger will stay stuck in you and the bee will die. A wasp, reputed to be nasty anyway and definitely more aggressive (maybe it’s the beer), will leave a stinger that is easy to pull out though he’ll use pheromones to alert his family, telling them all to come and get you. I’m quite glad I didn’t know this back then.

So back to the wasps. Springtime: it’s the queens who comes out of hibernation and start constructing a new nest. The developing colony soon produces males and the wasps who, fertilized, will become next year’s queens. By late fall only those newly mated queens will hibernate. The workers (unmated females), all the males and the old queen will die.

A fascinating study done at the University of Michigan showed that paper wasps can recognize the faces of other paper wasps. Placed in a T-maze, they were rewarded with a “safety zone” (it doesn’t say what happened on the other side) when they chose a “genuine paper wasp face” rather than a picture of a caterpillar, a geometric pattern or a computer-altered wasp face. Once they figured it out, they chose correctly “essentially every time after.”

Something new and wonderful to admire.

At a distance.

Susan Crossett has lived outside Cassadaga for more than 20 years. A lifetime of writing led to these columns as well as two novels. “Her Reason for Being” was published in 2008 with “Love in Three Acts” released in June. Copies are available at Papaya Arts on the Boardwalk in Dunkirk and the Cassadaga ShurFine. Information on all the Musings, the books and the author can be found at Susancrossett.com.