Sorry, But You’re Not Invited
By Violet Nesdoly
Uncle Jim stopped the van beside the ‘Beach Path’ sign. "This looks like a great place for a picnic," he said.
"Wow!" exclaimed Susan and Charlie when they saw the sparkling blue water.
"Everybody carry something and we'll be eating in no time," said Aunt May.
Soon the cooler and tote were set up on a log and they were digging for napkins, reaching for sandwiches and pouring glasses of juice. But someone else had come to the picnic too.
"Shoo!" Aunt May shouted slamming down the cooler lid. She handed Charlie a sandwich with one hand and waved at the air with the other. But the large black and yellow insects hovered nearby. One landed on the rim of Charlie's juice glass.
"Wasps!" yelled Charlie. He ran to a stretch of sandy beach, away from the food containers, and took a bite of his sandwich. But a second later he felt a tickle on his hand and saw that a wasp had landed there and was crawling toward the bread. He flung the sandwich onto the sand. "It might sting me!" he cried.
Have you ever spent a picnic or camping trip trying to avoid these stinging insects? Have you wondered when, why and how they sting? Do you know what to do if you get stung?
Wasps are probably no strangers to you because wasps of all kinds are common all over the world and like to live close to people. They eat other insects and plant matter as well as human food scraps and sweets.
The wasp is an insect shaped like an 8, and has the usual insect parts; head, thorax, abdomen, six legs and four wings. One of the most easy-to-recognize wasps, the yellowjacket, has yellow and black designs on its body. At the tip of its abdomen is a stiff hair-like stinger, sharp enough to break through skin.
If you've ever been stung by a wasp, you'll know it is a sudden and painful surprise. A wasp will sting when it feels squeezed or trapped (like when it accidentally crawls up your clothes), angered or threatened. An angry wasp will buzz toward the enemy, sit down on it, ease its lower body toward the skin and push the stinger in. The muscles inside the wasp pump venom through the hollow stinger tube, into the flesh.
Although wasp venom can be deadly in large amounts, the small amount in one sting is usually harmless and the pain goes away in a few hours. Spread antihistamine medicine (which fights the histamine in the venom) on the sting to help it feel better.
But look out if you disturb the yellowjackets' grey, papery, bulb-shaped nest or stumble across a wasps' nest hidden in the ground! An angry or frightened wasp makes and gives off a chemical called an alarm pheromone. This chemical tells insects of the same family, danger is near. They react instantly, like an army, swarming all over the enemy, swooping and diving like fighter planes, stinging without mercy. With up to several thousand wasps in a nest, you'll need to get medical help if you are ever attacked like this!
Another time a wasp's sting can be deadly is if the person stung is allergic to the venom. If you are stung and are allergic, you will probably feel itchy all over. Your body may swell. You may feel sick to your stomach, dizzy, have stomach pain and feel tightness in your chest. Get to the doctor fast if this happens to you or someone you are with!
Back at the beach, Charlie looked down at his sandwich. Several yellowjackets were crawling on it. "I'm still hungry, but I'm afraid of the wasps," he said. "Can I go eat in the van?"
"Good idea!" exclaimed Uncle Jim.
"Why did those useless wasps have to come to our picnic?" asked Susan, as she walked up the sandy path. "They weren't invited."
"God made wasps too," said Aunt May. "They do useful things like eat insects that harm corn, cotton and fruit trees. They help pollinate some plants too."
"And we were the ones who invited ourselves to the beach, which is their home," said Uncle Jim.
"They'd probably like us to invite them into the van," said Susan, pointing to several that were buzzing around the door.
"Sorry wasps" said Charlie, from the safety of his seat in the van, "but you're not invited!" He sank his teeth into another sandwich.
* * *
Although the yellowjacket looks similar to a bumble bee, the wasp's body is smooth while the bee's is hairy.
A yellowjacket's showy designs warn some birds and animals to stay away.
Unlike a bee, which dies after it leaves its stinger behind, a wasp takes its stinger out and lives to sting again.
Violet Nesdoly writes from her home in British Columbia, Canada. She got the idea of writing about wasps one summer day when a wasp gave her a nasty sting while she was working in her garden. You can write to Violet by using the Letters page of this magazine. She would love to hear from you.
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