Thursday, July 29, 2010

Giant Cicada killing Wasps (Sand Hornets)

Wasp stinger, with droplet of venomImage via Wikipedia

An educational entry brought to you by the curious mind of an Old Dude who just happens to like sharing his knowledge.

Most of us have seen these giant insects at some time. You WILL remember if you have because they have a way of causing fear for most people. Few people REALLY like any kind of bug but when they are of this size and carry a small sword for a stinger, they are especially fearful and dreaded.

It would seem that the level of fear and the legend surrounding certain insects is proportional to their physical size. I’ve known about these creatures for most of my life but only now have I had reason to desire to learn more about them. I’ve got all this folklore stored away in my memory concerning these Hornets. None of it can be substantiated. You may have heard horror stories about their legendary strength and the power of their sting. Some people will attest to the fact that a full-grown adult human has been knocked off their feet when struck by one. Others will swear that they witnessed someone’s hand swell to three times its size after accidentally grabbing one while it sat motionless on something they intended to pick up. Yet, unless you are very allergic to their venom, I doubt most of the stories I’ve heard about them are accurate.

For most of us, a two-inch long bug of any kind is one we would rather not encounter at anytime. Speaking only for myself, I would not like to find out first-hand if any of the folklore is true. I sit here right now with three very large red spots on my right shoulder and back where some tiny mosquitoes bit me during the last day or two. I can’t see them but the wife tells me they are large and angry looking. I can tell you that they itch like crazy. I had her put some anti-itch ointment on them before she left for work today and they are still about to drive me nuts. It’s a good thing I can’t reach them with my hand or they would be open wounds by now. I’ve taken some Benadryl too but nothing seems to be helping so far.

Tuesday at work on the golf course, I came upon a large sand trap in front of number eight green. It is filled with starkly white sand, so of course the mass of darker beige mounds scattered throughout it caught my attention. I knew what they were right away even before I noticed the first Hornet struggling with what I have always called a “Jar Fly” but more accurately they are Cicadas, very large Cicadas. Observing the scene more closely, I noticed a number of dead Cicadas lying here and there around the bunker. I wondered why that was. It only took a short period of searching through my vast storehouse of knowledge before I came up with the explanation. These wasps capture these Cicadas for a very specific purpose. They are intended as “food” for their offspring after they have hatched. A DEAD Cicada simply will not do. It MUST be alive when the eggs hatch and the larvae begin to feed upon them. It would appear that even Hornets have trouble dispensing just the right amount of venom into their prey. A drop too much and the Cicada will die and become useless for their purpose. Thus, what I observed was rejected, dead Cicadas. This has been going on for some time because at one end of the bunker there was possibly hundreds of dead Cicadas. They had been piled up in that spot by the operator of the small machines that are used to rake the bunkers a few times each week. That is the end of the bunker that the operator uses to enter and exit said bunker. As the job is completed, the operator will raise the rake after exiting the bunker, leaving the Cicadas behind just off the edge in the grass.

Being the responsible, concerned employee that I am, I reported the situation to the pro-shop. I could see some player trying to hit his ball out of that bunker and being attacked by several of those Hornets who were only defending their nests. According to the person who wrote the article on these creatures, that fear is unsupported by fact. Turns out that only the females of the species have a stinger and they are not in the habit of defending their nests. They evidently are to preoccupied with their reproduction process to bother. That’s the male’s job and get this; males of the species DO NOT have stingers. How weird is that? As with most males, the bark is worse than the bite. However, they are still convincing defenders of the nests when it comes to most humans. Being dive-bombed and otherwise threatened by the stinger-less males usually does the trick.

During my period of observations that day, I did notice one Hornet setting off to the side of the bunker, resting on a flattened out down Dandelion. He would sit there until something or someone came close enough to be a threat and then he went into action. Yes! I supposed it was a male because he was the only one serving in that capacity. It’s a good thing I had the windshield up on my golf cart. I got too close at one time and that Hornet repeatedly crashed into my windshield. It may be true that males do not have stingers, but in my mind, I could hear his venomous dagger slashing away at the acrylic material. He was a good imposter!

At the time I reported the situation to the pro-shop they explained that everyone in the maintenance crew had left for the day. All that could be done for now was to warn everyone I encountered on the course to be aware of the Hornets. I talked with one of the other Rangers on duty and he seemed interested. We drove out to the bunker and after surveying the situation, he took a hand rake and got right into the bunker with the Hornets and proceeded to cover over and fill up all the nest sights. Where were all the patrolling male Hornets? Why weren’t they attacking this invader of their domain? I’m sorry, but they don’t pay me enough to do what he was doing. He escaped unscathed, BUT if that had been me, I probably would be lumpy by now with worse things than mosquito bites. I should be saying things like “My Mommy didn’t raise no fools” right about now but that could be taken the wrong way. I don’t know if Joe reads my diary or not. Some men are brave and some are foolhardy, I am neither! I say live and let live so long as they don’t enter into my home. Hornets have to survive too and they’ve been doing just that for much longer than I have been on this earth.

If you’ve enjoyed this kind of entry, please let me know. I can do reports on other forms of life too. I encounter lots of it while on my job. Who knows; we all might learn something?

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