Abandoned Buildings

At the height of summer we actually contemplated evacuating the wasps. Although they were minding their own business and busy incidentally helping us in the garden, the nests were absolutely teeming with wasps. There were wasps everywhere.[1] The nests were so full that clumps of wasps would literally fall off as if bombing the ground below the backdoor, the out-house and the laundry. These wasps were not dwelling far away from our daily activities, they were right there at the centre of the action. It was intense.

The abandoned nests pictured here are two of six or seven. And so, due to the overwhelming numbers and despite my professional and personal proximity to people who argue for multispecies futures and my general agreement with those arguments [2] and Sophie’s day job as an ecologist, we almost talked ourselves into a mass evacuation (eviction? execution? massacre?). “We are having a house gig”, we said to each other. “What if there are kids and no epipens”, we said to each other. Oh, the terrible horrible dark powers of risk management training! What were we thinking?! Before starting the process, we had a moment of enlightenment and turned to the Internet to find out a little bit more about the Australian Paper Wasp. [3] We found out many extraordinary things about these guys that quickly shocked us out of our risk averse stupor.

ABC Science website revealed that “The wasp prepares this paper ‘plaster’ by scraping tiny shavings of wood from old fence posts and rotten branches and mixing it with saliva. The queen wasp shapes the plaster into a series of chambers or cells, into each of which she lays a single egg.” [4] Over Spring and Summer they build these house a composite of different materials. In late summer and autumn, when we were contemplating the evacuation, the eggs begin to hatch. They were about two thirds of the way through a complex annual process. Once all the eggs have hatched they hibernate for the Winter and return in Spring to start the process again.

So we didn’t “evacuate” the wasps. Instead on the day of the gig we stopped people from using the doors that they were dive bombing. No humans or wasps were hurt. And now we have their abandoned homes to remind us of their presence. I hope they will be back this spring. Last winter we took down one of these houses after it had been abandoned to discourage them from setting up shop right above the back door, and they returned and put up a new one in the exactly same spot. Although I was a bit jumpy when swooped by the wasps when they were out and about doing their thing, as the year wore on I started to feel as though they were becoming used to my presence, but I actually think I was learning how to live with them.IMG_4496[1] My dad and I had a party trick. We could recite the whole of the kids book The Giant Jam Sandwich which was about a town that banded together to trap four million wasps in between two oversized slices of bread.

[2] See, for example, the work of my friends and colleagues Thom van Dooren, Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction (New York: Columbia UP, 2014) and Eben Kirksey, The Multispecies Salon (Durham: Duke UP, 2013). With friends like this you can’t get away with killing seven colonies of wasps. That’s a good thing.

[3] There are over 35 native species of Australian Paper Wasp – http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2011/10/04/3327168.htm. We don’t know which one shares our house.

[4] http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2011/10/04/3327168.htm