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Names, reputations, wasps and stuff.

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brachiosteve

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Posts on the Facebook group about reputations, animal names, and wasps in particular caused this ramble, but you might get something, somewhere, from it, whoever you are. And there’s a one question quiz at the end.  

Vampire bats, vampire squid, Tyrannosaurus rex, devil fish, devil’s coach horse, hellbender, spiny lumpsucker, satanic leaf-tailed gecko and countless local names for, ‘evil’ creatures. Reputations are  for a reason, if not always good or justified reasons or they are merely subjective or experiential.

In the time of P.T. Barnum/the age of freaks and curiosities, not to mention what the competitive press liked (extremes, no boring, middle/grey areas). Things and names, sizes, weights and looks were often exaggerated for effect and related magazines, societies, TV programmes and stories were, in response, popularised in society. The very story of John Merrick’s mother, being scared by an elephant, for example. Things like ghosts, aliens, UFOs, crypto-zoology, the paranormal, psychics, mediums, conspiracy and pseudo-science etc. became much more interesting to people. Many countries to this day, still have their own stories and beliefs and many are clearly untrue. But most, I suggest, not without some origin/sprinkle of truth or reason behind it. In some African countries, some snakes are believed to fly and roll down hills by holding their tales in their mouths, forming a circle and moving downhill at speed. Others lie in wait to attack you. There are snakes and lizards which glide, and I can imagine how people (even today) would believe or write such stories and I can also imagine the sort of experience that might make one write or believe it. And a bit of godly (or evil) magic or curse thrown in, can always add a bit of the supernatural to spice up boring laws of nature. It is perhaps surprising how the ancient Hindu stories of how Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) separated from India and how geological and other work between the land masses are not permitted, directly as a result of the stories told, despite modern technology explaining things. A fear of breaking tradition or interpreting religious myths literally and not upsetting people (or god(s)!) is strongly embedded, even in very academic people, where belief supersedes knowledge.

To most people, I suspect wasps are those irritating, flying, venomous creatures that make an annoying noise, and live purely to disrupt picnics and ice cream eaters in the sunshine, and then occasionally sting us when we won’t submit or share our sweet wares. Few people know or care for the benefits they produce, which would cause a disproportionate aphid population and a cascade of other problems. Better the devil you know!

Wasps, sawflies, ants and bees come from the order, Hymenoptera (with ants, wasps and bees forming the clade, Apocrita). Ants tend to more resemble wasps and also have a poor reputation – large numbers, many sting, bite and/or fly. So why don’t bees have such a hard time? Cuter? Honey providers? Many will die if they are forced to sting – which is sad. Well not all bees (or wasps, ants or sawflies) fit our stereotypes. There are, after all, 20,000 species of bee alone, and we have a dedicated team, led and built by bee keepers, working on this particular area of the Explorer. Hi Brendhan and Corrie!

Back to wasps. The sterile female workers live for 11-22 days, the fertile male drones for a bit longer and the fertile queen, (who can voluntarily choose the sex of her eggs! – called haplodiploidy) lives about a year. Spheksophobia is the fear of wasps. For identification, male wasps (drones) don’t have stings and they have more abdomen (gaster) segments and large, curved antennae. Their wings beat 150-250+ times per second and they inhabit the globe, barring the poles. Wasps are omnivorous, don’t store or make honey and make their nests from paper (chewed up bark). Bees do make and store honey, build from wax and just drink nectar and pollen. The executioner wasp is top of Coyote Peterson’s (wild wilderness) most painful stings of any insect, topping the warrior wasp, tarantula hawk wasp and even the bullet ant (of Shmidt’s pain list). Wasp stings tend to be alkaline, so vinegar can help. Wasp behaviour changes in summer, as the food source moves from sugar to protein. There are 100,000 known species of wasp, and most are parasitic and most insect pests will tend to have at least one species of wasp feeding upon, or laying eggs inside it.

There’s an obvious reason the Worldwide Fund for Nature (previously the WWF) has a panda as a logo and not a rare wasp, centipede or spider. [Grace Slick – of Jefferson airplane/starship and the great society and the classic solo album, ‘Dreams’ wrote a beautiful song about the, and called, ‘Panda’ – check it out.]

Humans are quite the opposite of wasps in many ways, e.g. we start wars, create terror groups, kill other people and other animals for pleasure, we like to rid the world of good, rare and useful creatures by destroying their habitats, using them for slave labour, clothing, ornaments, trophies, rugs, souvenirs, baiting, experimentation, torture, hunting, import/trade, circus/street shows or killing/eating them en-masse – especially the veggie/non-meat eating animals. And it is us that put the reputations on all of these innocent animals in the first place. That puts some perspective on it, too.

Surprisingly, wasps do have predators, but nothing specific, e.g. nothing specifically or exclusively hunts wasps. These include other insects and inverts, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, with some smaller mammals (rodents and carnivores like mustelids) willing to attack a nest for the larvae. Bats will commonly eat adult wasps, too.

If we turn to the sea, there is an aquatic equivalent to wasps which match them for the most painful sting of all animals – box jellyfish, which is actually called a sea, ‘wasp’!). There are places with such population densities, that it is impossible (for a person) to go swimming.

There is only one animal to my knowledge, that is known to eat both of the so called, ‘time and space’ wasters of land and sea, jellyfish and wasps. What is it?

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