Solitary, but Gregarious in Nature

The blue winged digger wasp is born in solitary fashion, its mother having provisioned its nest, laid an egg, and then flown off. After hatching from the body of a white grub, the tiny wasp larva satisfies his initial hunger by consuming the same grub that it was purposefully placed on. And then it pupates. The following summer its mature life begins. Shiny blue wings unfold and a magnificent specimen of a wasp emerges from a hole in the ground, ready for action. Whizzing silently above its head are many others similarly garbed in blue. They single-mindedly fly in loops, inspecting every inch of the ground below them. All morning, all August, the male blue winged digger wasps vie for emerging virgins. Right time, right place is key to victory.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMeanwhile members of another species, some 800,000 times the weight of the beautiful wasp (more or less), with complicated plans and consequential schemes in their oversized brains, are stopped dead as they come upon the spectacle. The wasps are almost invisible to them at first. But then, as their eyes adjust to the nuances of the dark cruisers swiftly and purposefully looping just above the green grass, the reality sinks in. There are dozens, no hundreds, of the low flyers.

The socially gregarious, massive humans had planned a party on the lawn, a wedding, in fact, only to find—what? Why is this infestation occurring at the time of our wedding?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wasps glide and swoop, their wings iridescent in the morning sun, males on the prowl, females emerging from the ground or settling into the soil, preparing to paralyze a white grub with a sting and then deposit an egg in its body. They are oblivious to other species, even one so large that a well-timed stomp would result in instant death. Every now and then, in the grass, a tussle of blue wings and skinny torsos ensues, as a half-dozen or so males seize the moment. A female, presumably, is at the heart of the scuffle. Time is short. August is all they have.

So what happens when the two species collide—the one living in a busy hive consisting of literally millions of box-like dwellings with multiple connective paths, some wide and whirring with vehicular carriers, others fashioned for just one single human at a time; the other with much simpler needs. The humans are social by biology, gregarious by nature. They vigorously defend their living spaces, with laws, with guns, with mighty fighter jets. This is what they are programmed to do.

The wasp is solitary at birth but is compelled by survival instinct to find its mates in an open display of gregarious behavior. But, as each is born alone, there is no territory to defend. That’s how it is, when you’re solitary.

“My wedding will be ruined,” wailed the bride-to-be, on noticing what she perceived as an invasion, a rude intrusion. She had planned her nuptials—a social rite of the social species that generally occurs prior to egg fertilization—down to the very smallest detail. A ceremony on the green lawn aside the colorful August garden, a cello playing sweet music, her guests in white-sheeted chairs. An evening of gregarious festivities. Flowers everywhere. And now, with her special day was just two days away, she imagined the ruckus these intruders would cause, and frowned in consternation.

“But,” I said, “they retreat in the late afternoon.” By 4 p.m., I had noted, there were only a few persistent wasps still flying about.

“Can you assure me,” persisted the bride-to-be, “that they’ll be gone by Saturday at 4 o’clock?”

“Well, no …”

“Then you need to do something!”

They’re not aggressive, I tried to tell her. A territorial species might be intimidated by a show of force—armed guards, for example. They might clear out if faced with a threat—a coyote, or a bear. But digger wasps are oblivious to it all. They just want to mate and lay eggs. They just want to live their short lives.

“There’s nothing I can do,” I tried to explain.

“But you need to do something,” she repeated. Urgently.

The outcome, that is, the actual coming together of the two species on the chosen day, was entirely predictable. It was a non-happening, a non-conflict. It was a beautiful wedding, a day to remember, the perceived menace a mere footnote, or forgotten altogether. The bride was beautiful in white; the wasps lovely in iridescent blue.

Her hair shines with the beauty of youth; their wings flash in the sunlight. The wasps, the bride, the groom are intent on life. Every individual is in the moment. They are all thinking, but not thinking, of generations to come.

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