Monday, April 16, 2007


Paper wasps (Polistes humilis) are vicious, vengeful insects.

I don’t wish to dwell too much upon their lives because, if I had my way, I would eradicate the entire population.

However I did wonder what role they played upon this planet.

Well, I was most outraged when I found the answer.

My reluctant research found that the only beneficial value they have is as predators of pest caterpillars.

Now, as far as I am concerned, that emphatically deems paper wasps superfluous to Earth’s needs.

I am sure that we have a large number of benign creatures who are already filling the role of curtailing an excessive population of caterpillars.

For example, we have a host of pretty, happy, timid-natured and music-making birds on our planet who quietly go about their business cleaning up pests (including caterpillars I am sure) without causing pain to the rest of the world.

Okay, you may have already guessed that I have been a recent victim of a paper wasp attack.

It wasn’t the first time, mind. I have been caught unawares a few times over the years but after a good dose of swearing and the application of ice upon the sting sites I normally settle down and I usually do not harbour the desire to see the extinction of an entire species.

However this last attack was unforgivable and unforgettable and I am going to insist that you relive the terror with me.

It began on a pleasant February Monday afternoon. We had received a shower of rain earlier that day and, because we are experiencing continued dry times lately, I was curious as to how much water had fallen into the rain gauge.

As suspected, it was a pittance. I tipped it out and as I walked away I found that I had company. About five paper wasps were pursuing me and stinging me on various parts of my anatomy.

I screamed loudly to alert the family that I was in peril and I moved as swiftly away from my attackers as my aged body would allow.

The family quickly sourced the ice for my wounds and all should have been okay.

But no, this time I was going to experience a serious reaction.

Whilst struggling with my heart palpitations and acute pain, I wondered where these nasty beings had nested.

We soon discovered that they had built a large condominium underneath our rain gauge. It could only have been a day or so in construction because it was only a day or so since I had visited the rain gauge.

Below is a photograph of the remnants of that nest.

Fortunately, the spouse has perfected a method to eradicate the paper wasps which leaves their nest vacant thus allowing me (weeks after the shock had subsided) to photograph the empty condominium which is now available for passing vandals and graffiti gangs to do what they do best.

Revenge is sweet!

Back to the day of the attack.

I soon started to get extremely itchy all over my body. I was feeling most anxious and agitated and I knew I was in trouble.

I searched the cupboard shelf that is designated to medicinal bits and pieces and I could not find any antihistamines.

We didn't even have a salve for the stings.

I was acutely aware that, as a caretaker of the family, I had failed us all in terms of ready remedies for any repercussions from stinging insects.

Within an hour my body was covered in a red rash. The area around my eyes turned bright red and became astoundingly swollen. My left hand began to balloon.

I had a cold shower but it didn’t help.

I kept rubbing ice on the sting sites and I soaked a cloth washer in ice water before placing it all over my body which was becoming increasingly red and inflamed.

Later, when the daughter came home, we asked if she had any antihistamine in her possession. She did have the drug so I took it. A double dose, as you do.

After a few hours the rash was going away and the redness and itchiness subsided somewhat but my left hand remained swollen.

I do remember sustaining a couple of stings on my left hand and it must have been a similar situation to having an injection of poison into one of the veins.

There were other sting sites but the most vivid recollection was the one on my left buttock which went through my shorts and my cotton undies.

The drama continued on Tuesday as my hand continued to swell and then the swelling crept up my wrist and arm (see below).

I did ring the doctor’s office but there were no appointments available so the receptionist put me through to the registered nurse who told me to keep taking the antihistamines and to keep the hand on ice and elevated.

I had to go to the chemist that day to pick up some medication and that is where I came across a piece of good fortune.

Our usual pharmacist wasn't there that day and when the relieving pharmacist looked at my dramatically swollen hand and arm she said, "Oh that happened to me recently and it took 10 days to go away and I just took antihistamines and the doctor finally put me on prednisone."

Well, what a relief!

I told her that I was currently on prednisone due to my arthritis and when I told her the dose she said that it was probably the same amount she had been prescribed.

Wednesday morning it was still swollen but it wasn't as red and it wasn't aching as much. So I began to believe that my hand would one day return to its normal size and it did deflate later in the week.

Whilst awaiting on the deflation, the sight of my hand was constantly alarming the general public. And I was teased and laughed at by my family who told me I looked like I had an ill-fitting prosthesis.

It could have been worse. It could have been my right hand and that would have been more inconvenient for me.

My brave spouse has been scanning the exterior of the house and yard looking for any new nests. He has found a further 3 nests.

Late in the afternoon when the wasps are less waspish he sneaks up on them and douses them in petrol and they die instantly.

Yes, revenge is very very sweet.

We will continue to engage in this War on Wasps.