Relay: Showdown at Sunrise

For a long while, the wasps and I lived in harmony

While I was neglecting to properly maintain my yard this summer, a colony of wasps built a nest on one of the outer walls of the outdoor shower. 

The nest was situated far enough below eye level that I hadn’t noticed it on those rare mornings when shame had motivated me to mow the grass, take a clipper to overgrown vegetation, and pick up fallen tree branches. 

For a long while, the wasps and I lived in harmony. They permitted me the carefree use of the outdoor shower — even though a vigorous swinging open of the door could have smashed their domicile — and I, their unwitting host, provided them with a landscape unruly enough to satisfy even the most prodigious pollinator. 

Our relationship began to change a few weeks ago when, after emerging from the outdoor shower and shimmying an outstretched towel to and fro against my back, I experienced two simultaneous stings, one on my shoulder blade and one on my scalp. 

I blamed bees. Sure, it seemed a bit odd that two bees would have launched a coordinated strike against me, but who was I to question nature? 

Days later, as I was entering the outdoor shower, I was stung in the face, and that’s when I realized, while in the midst of screaming profanities at the sky, that a trip to the hardware store’s pest control aisle might be in the offing. 

When I finally eyed the nest, I was amazed at its size. I later learned that wasps construct their nests, which resemble papier-mâché sculptures, by layering chewed pieces of wood and plants. The matte-gray orb that hung from my outdoor shower looked like the ghost of a disco ball. Months of mastication must have taken place to create this structure. 

The more I learned about wasps the less eager I was to eradicate them. Colonies of social wasps are started each spring by a queen who was fertilized the year before and had the fortitude to survive the winter. She begins building a nest and then rears a brood of female worker wasps, who take over the construction duties. 

Only females have the ability to sting, but wasps of each gender, when they sense danger, emit a pheromone that sends colony members into, as a National Geographic article put it, “a defensive, stinging frenzy.” 

I spent a few days observing the nest from afar. It was a hub of activity with some wasps in a seemingly constant state of alert for potential threats, while others went off in search of food. I admired their commitment to community. They were doing exactly what they were born to do, albeit in a location that was inconvenient to me. 

I would have begrudgingly forgone using the outdoor shower and allowed the nest to remain until the winter’s cold caused the colony’s demise, if it were not for the fact that I have visitors — both human and canine — coming to stay with me at the end of August. At that point, according to National Geographic, more than 5,000 wasps could be in residence. For the sake of my friends, I told myself, the cohabitation needed to end. 

After reading up on some of the safer, more cowardly ways to rid your property of a wasp nest — do it either early in the morning or at night when the creatures are at rest, do it while clothed head to toe in case of attack, and do it with a pesticide spray with a long reach — I chose Sunday at 5:30 a.m. as my D-day. 

I am pleased to report that the attack occurred without incident to me, and saddened to recall how unfair a fight it turned out to be. The pesticide-soaked nest now hangs lifeless, a testament to one man’s refusal to let nature run its course. 

Part of me wishes I had received a few more stings for my actions, but, since that wasn’t the case, I decided to punish myself. Later that day, I mowed the lawn during the peak of the afternoon heat.

Jamie Bufalino is a reporter for The Star.