It’s a Bug’s Life

      This odd January is full of grey and wet and wind. The unusual weather seems a misstep in the cycle of the year. Birds that should have traveled long before to warmer climes may find themselves in perilous and dire straits when the course of the season corrects itself with an icy rein. For now they fill their bellies with the leavings of a fall harvest that by all rights should be buried under a covering of wintry white. The creatures that live by the length of the days and the angle of the earth have been caught unawares by this suspicious lack of seasonal scenery and oddities abound.

     As the year cools through the autumn months we usually play host to a variety of uninvited guests. Members of the indigenous bug population find their way inside drawn by the comparative warmth and the availability of entrance due to the idiosyncrasies of an old house. The most common immigrants are Asian beetles, spiders and oddly enough mud dauber wasps. Unlike the beetles or spiders, the wasps are always found below ground in the basement.

     These basement visitors are known as black and yellow mud daubers. They use mud to build small nests that can be found in sheltered places such as eaves or porches. Usually an inch or so in length they are impossibly slender at the waist (hence the term “wasp-waisted”) and black and gold in colour. When in flight the hind legs dangle down, equal in length to the body, seeming to increase the overall size to twice the height. The glossy wings are long and graceful. The head is well shaped, crowned with a tiara of ebony antennae and accented by black orbs full of age old wisdom and power. All-in-all the mud dauber is an impressive creature.

     It is somewhat of a mystery how something the size of a mud dauber could make its way inside. We’ve a variety of hypotheses for ingress that include entrance through the exhaust pipe of the gas furnace or through a room located off the very back of the basement. That particular room is not completely dug out and as a result carries the unknown element of an uncertain wall depth and a questionably sealed window. Whatever the way, they can be found hovering in the basement as the frost settles on the ground outside. Though the number is not great it is a startling sight to be greeted by a hovering and somewhat frazzled wasp as it searches for signs of familiarity in an unknown basement environment.

     These visits occur late in the season and the mud wasp is not a social or aggressive insect so it’s been my practice to leave them alone. It does take a bit of effort to remember to look where you put your feet and hands but it’s not too much of a bother. Often I will find the alien visitor drowned in the laundry sink before too many days have passed. It seems to hold a special attraction for those late season wanderers.

     Well before the ground has a chance to become snow covered the last of the wasps have gone to ground or left this world behind. This year though the unseasonable warm weather of January has created a revival in basement tourism. Unlike the wasps of late autumn these weary travelers don’t lumber through the air. As a matter of fact they can barely drag themselves across the old area carpet that covers the basement floor. A mud wasp in flight is an intimidating sight, to watch one drag itself across the floor is tragic. 

     Unintentionally awakened from a winter sleep, the humbled pilgrims traveling across the green wool are all potential mothers of a new line. Only the females last the winter to carry on the survival of the species. Mud daubers are not a volume reproducer. A single female will only lay approximately 15 eggs for her nest. A shame really as this type of wasp is especially beneficial in the garden, helping to keep the spider population in check. A wasp provides that control through the grizzly parasitical practice of using living prey as nutrition for her babies. Obviously we find this somewhat gruesome but for the wasp it ensures the survival of her line.

     These future mothers traveling across my floor are tired and confused. Instinct tells them that it should be spring and that there are nest to be built but like Rip van Winkle they awaken to a strange and new world. As I pass by, on whatever errand that brings me below ground, the wind from my passage brushes against the gold and black bodies. Wings stir, perhaps in warning, but I like to think they stir in memory or anticipation of the spring breeze. To put them outside would mean certain death. To leave them inside, awake and confused, no real food in sight and too weak to hunt, really means the same. The unsettling warmth of this unexpected thaw has tolled a death knell for these graceful builders. They are a step out of time and as a result they will be lost along the way. Still they force themselves across the floor seeking hope in the dark corners not knowing that it is too early for the new life they carry, too late for the old they lived and only a few more steps to oblivion.

     The cold will return and I will sweep up the remains of those stalwart travelers resting in those dark corners. Nothing will be left of  the potential lost under the grey rainy skies of unseasonable January weather, a step out of their time and just a husk and a memory in ours.       

9 thoughts on “It’s a Bug’s Life

  1. You\’ve actually made me feel sad for the little creatures…if only giant palmetto roaches were beneficial in the garden, I\’d be all set (ew!).


  2. They seek water to help with nest building and will hover around water sources . Swimming pools have killed more than we can count .


  3. Sigh, being the unsympathetic bastard I am, I would probably put on some boots and stomp on them if they were crawling around. Wasps scare me fairly bad, this resulting from a sting by them when I was rather young.As for my roomate, he for sure didn\’t find my blog. His parents live here in Camrose so he spent most of his time there and slept there on weekends and such. I think he was expecting dorms to be like the stories he heard from first year. However, this is second year now and everyone has their groups of friends and more or less keeps to them. So he didn\’t meet all that many people and I think he was just happier at home.


  4. That was an incredible piece of writing, Lorna Doone (now I want a cookie -i tried not to look at your name-because it makes me want a damn cookie–now I wrote it and I want th ecookie *sigh*)This was so beautifully tragic–and the writing so damn descriptive – you have a gift.


  5. All we have are millions (for serious, eventually) of Asian Flying Beetles a.k.a. the evil ladybugs. My number one favorite team by the way, is the Vikings, who did terrible in the first half of the year, therefore killing our playoff chances(again!) So now i just do\’t root for anyone when it comes to football.


  6. We watched one in Oklahoma last year after it had stunned a huge spider and attempted to drag the overpowering body up the porch post to it\’s mud nest in prepartion to feed it\’s soon to be placed larva. But, it was gluttony – and the wasp dropped it after it had drug it about 5 feet up the post. We watched for a quite spell after that to see if it would ever win that battle on it\’s second attempt — but it never did. Too bad it didn\’t choose a smaller spider.


  7. Earth changes..even the other planets in the solar system are heating up so it isn\’t all our fault…Well we played a rold in the earth changes but I guess this happens every zillion years or so… The cock roaches and fire ants will survive…


  8. @IndigoI think I\’d try to avoid any insect that actually had "giant" in its name even if it was beneficial in the garden ;P@NeerThanks Toad…that makes sense now that I think about it. =)@JonathanWell it\’s probably for the best that he\’s gone then. Do you think they\’ll replace him anytime soon? I have been stung by wasps out in the garden and it is quite painful. In my case though it usually happens when I\’m not paying attention to what is going on around me. The wasps that have found their way in are pretty sleepy and slow. They\’re really not much of a threat to anyone.@JackI\’ve actually accidentally eaten one of those evil Asian beetles (NOT something anyone should experience). The Vikings…eh? Do they wear those helmets with the cows\’ horns attached to the sides…lol (jk ;P)@KathrynOh for goodness sake just have a cookie! You know you want one…tell you what…I\’ll have one for you, okay? ;)@BrendaWho needs a television? I\’m sure that reality TV would pale in comparison to that display even if her dinner plans were overly ambitious.;)L@CherylWe\’re in the middle of a January thaw like I\’ve never seen. The news is full of natural disasters on a scale and in quantities that are inconceivable. As you\’ve said we do know that the earth has experienced many extreme climate changes in the past but with all the research being done it is hard to not believe that we do bear some responsibility. =/


  9. Interesting, sad and touched the heart very much. I am an insect appreciater. I usually leave spiders and such that live in my house alone to their own lives. If they don\’t bother me, I won\’t bother them. I found a lady bug a few weeks ago. I\’m not sure what they eat, but I put it on my plant that has the most leaves and seems like a small tree.
    I do however have a fear of bugs going in my ears, and so when I camp I put "OFF" on my ears. And I HATE silver fish, ewwwwwwwwww. The creep me out and those other ugly little centipede like things that you find in basements.


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