A few weeks ago, I walked upstairs to our mid-level family room, which is partly a playroom for the girls and partly my wife’s office.  My wife was busy typing an email, and when I started to ask her a question, she said, “Just a second, let me finish this.  Oh, and you might not want to be in here right now.  There’s a wasp flying around.”

She said this with the same degree of alarm you’d adopt while informing your spouse that there’s a cricket somewhere in the garage.

“Excuse me, did you say … wasp?”

“Yeah.  I saw it flying around up there by the ceiling fan.”  Then she went back to typing her email.

I had three immediate thoughts:

  1. If there’s a wasp in the house, it’s going to sting me.
  2. I must kill the wasp before it stings me, although I’ll probably be stung during the attempt.
  3. When I do get stung, it will be my children’s fault.

I blamed my girls because as soon as school was out for the summer, they decided to occupy their days with an activity parents refer to as “running in and out.”  They love to be outdoors, but apparently never for more than five minutes at a time.  So, like any middle-aged dad, I’ve taken up the habit of bellowing “Close the door!” every time they run in or out.  I don’t even bother to look.  If they’ve just run in or out, I know the door is wide open.

My six-year-old believes every parental command must be accompanied by a detailed justification, so she’d already demanded to know why she has to take time out of her busy day to stop and close the door every time she runs in or out — especially since she’ll just be running back in or back out a few minutes later.  So I told her:  “There are wasps outside.  I don’t them coming into my house.  If you leave the door open, one of them will get in here.”  Obviously, she wasn’t convinced.  And now there was a wasp in the house.  The enablers were, of course, nowhere to be seen.

Just walking away and hoping the wasp would eventually leave wasn’t a possibility, because I have a history with wasps, and it isn’t pretty.  Wasps aren’t like bees.  Bees are cute.  Sure, they can sting you, but it doesn’t hurt much and you have to give them a reason — like stepping on them.  (Or, in my brother’s case, believing a rumor that if you cup your hands around them, you can carry them around and they won’t mind.)

Wasps, on the other hand, are little flying sociopaths.  If they’re having a bad day and you happen to be nearby, they’ll go after you.  And a wasp sting hurts like hell.

I found that out for the first time when I was 12.  I was watching TV when I started hearing thumps on the outside of the house.  I went outside and found some neighborhood idiots throwing rocks at what looked like a dirt pancake with holes in it, stuck to the underside of our roof.

“Uh … what are you guys doing?”

“That’s a wasp nest,” one of them explained.  I was just staring to reply when some wasps dropped from the mud pancake and then swooped into a V formation, with the point of the V aimed in our direction.  The rock-throwing idiots ran.  I was also turning to run when WHAM! — I took a direct hit in the shoulder.

If you’d asked me before this experience what a wasp sting would probably feel like, I would’ve guessed something like being pierced with a needle.  Not even close.  It feels more like a baseball player studded his Louisville Slugger with a nail and then swung for the fences, with your body having the bad luck to be in the way.  That’s because wasps drive their stingers deep — sometimes piercing the flesh — and inject a toxin at the same time.  And unlike honeybees, wasps don’t commit suicide by stinging you.  They can pull out and sting you again if they’re in the mood.

An entomologist once created a pain scale for various insect bites and stings.  A bee sting rates a 2.0 on his scale.  A wasp sting — which he described as “blinding, fierce, shockingly electric” — rates a 4.0.  Naturally, none of the neighborhood idiots who were throwing rocks at my parents’ house were afforded an opportunity to agree or disagree with the entomologist’s description.  Only I was, and I agree.

At least those wasps had a reason to attack.  A year later, I was stung again during a class picnic in a park.  We were walking through a covered structure that was, as I found out, home to at least one wasp.  Nobody was throwing rocks, and nobody was close to the wasp, which attacked from a high, beamed ceiling.  Apparently it just didn’t like seeing all those happy schoolchildren missing math class and, after looking us over, said to itself, “I bet the fat kid can’t run very fast.” I was also a victim of Seventies fashion sense:  that is, I was wearing hip-huggers that left the top of my ass exposed. 

WHAM!  Nail-studded Louisville Slugger, delivered straight to the part of the hip not being hugged.  In addition to the pain, this led to the embarrassment of being surrounded by curious classmates while my seventh-grade teacher — clearly no entomologist, in retrospect — spent several minutes on her knees, searching the top of my ass for a non-existent stinger.

Those were the actual stings that made me hate wasps.  I’ve also had some close calls.

After my freshman year in college, my dad gave me an extra summer job:  painting the exterior of the house, which was paneled with thick, vertical planks.  I could use a roller on those, but needed a brush to paint between them.

So one hot day in July, I was standing on a ladder leaned against the back of the house, holding a small bucket of paint in my left hand and a brush in my right, applying paint between the planks.  I pushed the brush into a gap where the planks met the roof, and as I pulled the brush away, I couldn’t help but notice a wasp was following it.  In the next half-second, I tossed the brush and the bucket, jumped off the ladder, sprinted the few yards to our backyard pool and dove in.  My feet only touched the ground twice.

When I couldn’t hold my breath any longer, I came up for air.  Then I decided I should probably go under again, mostly because the wasp took my emergence as an opportunity to fly straight at my head.  This time I swam underwater to the opposite end of the pool, then came up slowly.  The wasp was still buzzing around the other end of the pool, looking for me.  Occasionally it would land on the water and float there for awhile, then conduct another reconnaissance mission.

I kept thinking it would give up soon and go away.  It didn’t.  And that’s why, when my older brother Jerry stepped out onto the back deck some time later and saw me more or less hiding under the diving board, he asked, “What are you doing in the pool with your clothes on?”

So I explained that a wasp had driven me off the ladder and into the pool, that I’d been there for a good part of the day, keeping everything below my chin submerged, that I was planning to stay there as long as necessary, despite being fully clothed and water-logged, because the wasp was still flying around the pool and occasionally floating on top of the water, which in fact was exactly what it was doing now, and whether flying or floating, it was clearly intent on stinging me, which was also why I didn’t want to talk about it any more, since the sound of my voice could give away my location.

I explained all this by pointing and croaking, “Wasp.”

Jerry peered towards the pool, then retreated into the house without another word.  He emerged a few minutes later wearing swim trunks and a battle face.  He was also armed with a large plastic canoe paddle. He crept to the edge of the pool near the wasp, raised the paddle slowly over his head, bent his knees, then sprang over the water with a cry of “YAAAAAAAAAAHH!!”

It wasn’t Olympic form, but as Jerry entered the water in a horizontal position, he managed to land a direct paddle-smack on the wasp.  Then, over the next 15 seconds or so, he landed 347 more. 

The end result was one slightly injured and seriously pissed-off wasp, buzzing atop the water in a furious circle.  Jerry splashed to the side of the pool, grabbed the net-on-a-pole we used for scooping leaves, and netted the wasp.  He dragged the net to the bottom of the pool and left it there. 

When I was convinced the wasp didn’t have a Houdini routine its in repertoire, I finally hoisted myself out of the pool and went inside to put on dry clothes.  A half-hour later, after we’d spent the intervening time relaxing on the back deck, Jerry retrieved the net and dumped the drowned wasp on the patio near the pool.  A half-hour after that, the drowned wasp buzzed angrily a few a times, then flew away.  We didn’t stick around to see if he planned on returning.

That’s how tough wasps are.  People who say cockroaches would be only survivors of an all-out nuclear war are at least one species short in their estimate.

Now that I think about it, my near-misses with wasps always seem to involve water, because the next one occurred in a shower.  My wife and I were living in Los Angeles at the time, renting an apartment where the bathroom window was on a wall inside the shower stall.  I opened the window about a half-inch one morning before showering, and as I was shampooing my hair, I noticed something squeeze under the window sill, pause for a second, then fly towards me.  Wasp.  The only reason I wasn’t stung immediately is that a stream of water from the shower knocked the little bastard off course.

This led to what was eventually known as the Scream Like A Girl Incident, which featured me scampering naked and wet to the opposite end of the apartment, arms flailing, eyes stinging from the shampoo sliding into them and — as the incident’s title suggests — screaming like a girl.  (I recall something more like a manly yell, but my wife named the incident, and her memory of it is probably more accurate, since my brain was occupied with whatever hormones are produced during moments of primal terror.)

There was something of a repeat a year later, after we bought our first house in Burbank.  Despite living together for two years, I didn’t yet realize that when my wife loses strands of hair while shampooing, she rolls them up and sticks them to the wall of the shower.  (I didn’t realize this because she usually removes them on her way out.)  I also didn’t realize that the steam from a hot shower can cause a hairball to un-stick itself from the wall and float in the air. 

So I stepped into the shower one morning just after she’d finished — without my glasses, of course — and, after rinsing my face, opened my eyes just in time to see an out-of-focus black fuzzy thing emerge from the fog and float towards my chin. 

This led to what was eventually known as the Scream Like A Girl Incident Sequel, which ended with my wife inquiring as to why I was beating a hairball to death with my shower brush and — as the incident’s title suggests — screaming like a girl.  At least it wasn’t a real wasp.  I never found the wasp that came at me in the original Scream Like A Girl Incident, and I spent days worrying that it was still somewhere in the apartment.

So, given my experiences with wasps, I wasn’t about to just hope the one flying around our ceiling fan would go away.  In fact, it soon landed on the fan and seemed be to considering whether the metal housing, with those nice air slots, might make a good home.  I could already imagine it flying out of there someday, heading towards one of the girls.

I considered going after it with a flyswatter, but then thought of a line from The Usual Suspects:  “How do you shoot at the devil?  What if you miss?”  And missing was a definite possibility, given my batting average with the flyswatter. 

The only other option was to spray it with insecticide — the shotgun approach.  So I retrieved a can of Raid Ant and Roach Killer (Country Glade scented!) from the laundry room and started up the stairs … then realized this operation could end with the wasp driving a Raid-soaked stinger into my body.  I needed armor.  I needed to wear more layers than a wasp’s stinger can penetrate.

By the time I returned to the family room, I was wearing jeans, a tee shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a sweatshirt with a hood, a windbreaker with a hood, a scarf, and thick winter gloves.  Both hoods were pulled tight, leaving only the area around my eyeglasses exposed.  I would have to stand on a chair to get up near the ceiling fan, and my biggest concern was that if the Raid didn’t kill the wasp immediately and I had to run, I could fall down and find myself unable to get up … sort of like Ralphie’s little brother in A Christmas Story

In that case, the wasp might not even sting me right away.  It might strut around me for awhile, baggy pants hanging halfway down its little wasp ass, calling me a biatch.  Then it would drive its stinger into my hamstring through my jeans.

I slowly pulled a chair to the area below the ceiling fan, climbed aboard, and stood up even more slowly.  Son of a @#$%!  I couldn’t see the wasp.  Not high enough.  I asked my wife to go to the top of the other stairway, which leads to the second-story bedrooms.  She did.

“Can you see it?”

“Yes.  It’s walking around on the top of the motor.”

I raised my chemical weapon slowly.  “Okay … am I pointing the can of Raid at the wasp?”

“Yes.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

PHHSSHHHHHHHHT!!  I sprayed for at least 10 seconds, eyes locked on the housing of the fan, waiting for the wasp to swoop down at me.  Then I jumped off the chair and ran up the stairs.

“Did I get it?”

“I don’t know.  I lost it in the spray, and now I can’t see it anymore.”

“Damn.”

“Good lord, that stuff smells awful.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.  Right now I’m more concerned with knowing whether the wasp is dead or just really pissed off.”

“I’ll go see.”

My wife went down the stairs and, to get a properly elevated view, climbed on top of the table she and the girls use for art projects.  It occurred to me that if the wasp flew out of the fan and stung her, I’d feel like a moron … even though it would give me a chance, for the first time in the 13 years we’ve known each other, to hear her scream like a girl.

“It’s dead.  I’ll get it.”

She grabbed a paper towel, stood on the chair I’d abandoned, and swiped at the top of the fan’s housing.  The wasp fell to the floor.  She crumpled it inside the paper towel and headed downstairs.

“Use the garbage can outside.  I’ve seen those things come back to life.”

“Okay.”

And that was The Great Wasp Hunt of 2010.  Meanwhile, another one has taken up residence in an area beneath the roof, just outside our kitchen door.  I don’t use that door much anymore.

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19 Responses to “The Great Wasp Hunt of 2010”
  1. Amy Dungan says:

    ROFLMBO!! That sounds like the kinda crap that happens to me all the time. I have a history with wasps too, it’s like the have “Amy Radar” when I’m around… they are mean and evil and winged spawns from hell!

    Glad you were better prepared for this battle and that you won!

    It’s enough to make you go through life wearing a beekeepers getup.

  2. Tracey says:

    Oh Tom I’m so with you this…wasps are evil personi…nope make that insectified. Worst case I saw was a friend who’d been stung on her tongue (wasp on her toast with jam and she didn’t realise) – luckily she wasn’t allergic as the swelling was bad enough. Oh and then there was the one on the toilet seat that my poor mum found a little too late.

    Nasty, nasty little blighters. Love bees. Hate hate HATE wasps.

    They are evil. They’re the gang-bangers of the insect world.

  3. Scott says:

    Wasps are sneaky devils too … I went to remove the cover from my boat one summer, and hadn’t noticed that they had set up housekeeping under the edges … and got a dozen stings to the face and chest before I knew what had happened.

    A dozen?! Lordy Mama, that had to hurt.

  4. Auntie M says:

    Thanks for the story. I’m with you. I’ve been stung exactly once, and it was by a wasp. I apparently got too close to its nest while closing a door, and it attacked my hand. My father is allergic to bee stings, so I was petrified that my throat would close up. Luckily, I didn’t have a reaction beyond the “it hurts like hell” thing you described.

    I took my revenge on its entire family. I bought the bee/wasp killing spray, waited until the middle of the night, and sprayed the entire nest, killing every one of them. Of course, I stayed far away from that door until it was dark and the little @#!%$& were sleeping. Now I’m worried that the Wasp Mafia will someday show up at my door in retaliation, so I stay way far away from any wasp nests or wasps that I see. Evil buggers.

    If there’s a Wasp Mafia, I hope my latest hit wasn’t on a capo.

  5. Dave Dixon says:

    I haven’t been stung in 20+ years. The last time was when I was a teenager taking out the trash. I suddenly felt something akin to smashing my finger with a hammer, dropped the trash, and saw a 2-inch black hornet fall to the ground. I jumped up and down on it, screaming obscenities that would make a pirate hooker blush, until there was nothing left but a stain on the cement. The others must have put the word in the street, since then they’ve left me alone.

    BTW, WD-40 kills wasps nicely. I use it to knock out yellowjacket nests.

    WD-40 … wouldn’t have thought of that. Plus they’ll stop squeaking.

  6. Alexia says:

    I enjoyed reading this post, it made me laugh. Only because I do that same exact thing. I used to be terrified of bees until I met my first wasp. I love bees now LOL

    My daughter stepped on a bee awhile back and got stung. She didn’t like it, of course, but what struck me is how quickly she got over it. Wouldn’t happen with a wasp sting.

  7. Your older brother says:

    “Or, in my brother’s case, believing a rumor that if you cup your hands around them, you can carry them around and they won’t mind.”

    Look, dammit, you really can cup your hands around them and hold them without them stinging. The neighborhood mailman showed me how to do it. Who you gonna believe — the Post Office or your lyin’ eyes?

    They absolutely won’t sting a person unless I — I mean unless that person panics and starts flailing their arms around like a dork and makes the bee go all “waspy.”

    Unfortunately, one thing that causes panic almost 100% of the time is realizing that, for some unfathomable reason, you’re holding a freaking bee in your hands!

    Just to set the record straight.

    I would like to point out that as you were demonstrating this theory to me, I did not — I repeat DID NOT — laugh out loud when you let out a yelp.

  8. Jan says:

    The only time I laughed this hard at another wasp story (which I thought, when I read the title, was going to include Caucasian Presbyterians) was when my former boss told me about how he bit off the end of a bratwurst during a White Sox game in Chicago. He didn’t see the wasp perched there, and described the sting to the roof of his mouth as “agonizing.”

    Yes, I laughed. Also, note the word “former.”

    Oh my lord … now I’m afraid of bratwurst.

  9. Chad Wallace says:

    LMAO!!!

    I have a theory about this (and its radically different from my theory on the Brontosaurus). Tom, isn’t the top of your head rather flat? I believe that Wasps are attracted to you because they see that big ol flat (bald?) spot, and imagine it to be sort of like a miniature version of an aircraft carrier. They simply want a place to rest and refuel! Maybe wearing something like a nice Beret would keep them distracted.

    disclaimer – in case anyone wonders, its OK for me to make fun of Tom’s bald spot, because I’m balder than he is!

    I do have an aircraft-carrier head now, but I doubt wasps could recognize that until I was 35 or so. And given where they landed — shoulder, top of the ass — they’re lousy pilots.

  10. Katie says:

    When I was very young, I apparently liked to collect bugs. One day, my Mom was in the kitchen and suddenly heard me screaming and crying on the porch. She came running outside, and I had my hands cupped around something. She kept telling me to open my hands, but I just kept crying and screaming for her to bring me a jar so I could put my bug in it. Mom eventually prevailed, and when she pried my hands open, out flew a wasp that had stung me who-knows-how-many times.

    I, fortunately, don’t remember this happening because I was too young. But I will no longer get near any wasps, that’s for sure! At least I know I’m not allergic…

    You must have been one determined child.

  11. Elenor says:

    I second your description of the agony a wasp sting causes… Mine was a double (same nasty little biatch) on the back of my ring finger. I walked out the front door with a glass of ice water for my lawn-mowing husband — and the nasty things were apparently building a nest right there! Took my husband a long time to find all the fragments of his glass from sprayed all across the front (cement) walkway. I spent about a half hour holding my hand under cold water and crying…. (oh yeah, I’m ALLOWED to scream like a girl… cause I are one!) Never have felt such burning pain. Hope to never again! Agony!

    Hurts like hell, and we don’t even get the satisfaction of knowing they died for the effort.

  12. Bruce says:

    Those damn yellow jackets in the fall. I love September and October in Northern Illinois, and those little bast$reds make being outside a chore. I got stung once. On the ankle bone area. I jerked my head down so fast to see what the heck it was, that I could barely move my neck for 3 days. Makes you want to upgrade you cable to the sloth option and grow roots on the sofa until the first good freeze. Was stung on the bottom of my foot once by a bee. (my fault, I was barefoot and walking in the grass..how stupid am I?) It hurt some, but that felt more like I was stepping on a sharp rock.

    My daughter is convinced yellow jackets don’t sting. I’m going to inform her otherwise before she tries to put one in her bug jar.

  13. D. says:

    Oh, yellow jackets are every bit as mean as wasps, they don’t need any provocation in order to nail you good.

    We had a wasp trying to run off 3 hummingbirds from the feeder just last week. Every time a bird tried to get to the feeder, the stupid wasp ran it off. Thank goodness the birds finally prevailed. We have bought some wasp traps to try, if we ever get around to hanging them. If they work, I will let you know.

    Definitely let me know. We’ve still got one living out back.

  14. Wyatt says:

    Just be glad you don’t live in Japan. I can’t think of anything that terrifies me more than the Giant Japanese Hornet… http://www.vincelewis.net/hornet.html … the youtube video made me want to pass out.

    One thing the article doesn’t mention is that sometimes people deep-fry them or eat them like sashimi. What the hell, Japan?!

    I’d faint. Or scream like a girl. But FYI, bugs have been part of the human diet for millions of years.

  15. Charise says:

    I was looking for kittens on my grandpa’s farm when I lifted up a hay bale to reveal a yellow jacket’s nest – tell your daughter they sting HARD. I was stung maybe 7 times in various places and spent the next few hours in agony as the stings swelled and caused immense pain. I actually had ICE on them to make the pain stop.

    Yeee-ikes, that must’ve hurt. I’ve made sure my daughter understands that all bees can sting.

  16. Mary N says:

    Oh my Goodness! I haven’t laughed this hard in a year! I am literally in tears! I happen to have wasps entering my apartment since Friday; it’s now Sunday and the count is 7. So a Google search turned up this hilarious account. To say I am terrified of these buzzing black/yellow stripey things is putting it mildly. I’m known to have avoided getting stung by anything in 50 years, by doing a “bee dance” whenever in the presence of anything striped with wings. I look like a dork but it works. Now just to get my very upscale apt. complex to resolve this problem. Thanks for the laughs!

    You’re welcome for the laughs, and I hope those flying demons are gone from your apartment soon.

  17. This was such a great story, really funny. I read it out loud to my girlfriend who is TERRIFIED of anything that flies and stings. She got a kick out of some of it because it’s just like her, although she has never been stung before.
    Came across this article because I typed “One wasp carrying something into my doorway” because I saw a wasp carry a long piece of grass into a crack just outside my back door, right in the frame. Figuring it’s making a nest. I’ve sprayed into the hole twice now but I keep seeing the wasp. Can’t kill it and I don’t want it living there.
    Thanks again for this blog post it was great!

    Thank you.

  18. Jack Torrence says:

    Hi Tom,

    I can certainly relate to your experiences. One of my encounters with those nasty fuckers happened when I was 9yo. My Grand Father and I were clearing a path through the woods behind his house to get to a small brook that ran back there. About half-way to the brook, I began cutting down a small tree with my hatchet. Unbeknownst to be, there was a wasp nest approximately the size of a beach ball in that tree. The tree shaking from my hatchet blows must have alerted them to my presence, because all of a sudden I got the nail-tipped Louisville slugger right on my arm. A second or two later, two more strikes, one on my neck and the other on my back. I look up and see a cloud of hundreds of furiously buzzing brown wasps flying straight at my face. I ran. And yes I immediately began screaming like a little girl; a little girl with all the demons of hell chasing after her.

    By this time they were stinging me all over my entire body, right through my cloths. Stinging my arms, legs, chest, back, neck, scalp and a couple to the face. I turned my head to look behind me as I was running only to see that enormous brown cloud about five paces back, gaining fast. I reached the end of the path and charged through my Grand Father’s back yard. My jump cleared the security fence around the pool by at least 357 feet, then one hop later I achieved splashdown in the deep end of the pool. This I thought would immediately end my disastrous predicament. However, as you and your little brother discovered, these fuckers live just fine under water, and although my tsunami-creating splashdown had dislodged a good number of ’em, there was still several attached, continuing to sting away as if nothing had happened. When I surfaced, the cloud had caught up and began dive bombing my face, neck and head. I resubmerged, trying desperately to scrape the ones on my body off while underwater. My next resurfacing resulted in another blast to the neck, so I went back under, and swam to the shallow end of the pool. Lucky for me, wasps do not seem to have evolved a way to understand submarine warfare, because when I resurfaced at the shallow end the cloud was still down at the deep end furiously buzzing around looking for me. I jumped out of the pool, ran inside the house, still screaming like a little girl of course. My poor Grand Mother probably nearly had a stroke right there from my screams and my sopping wetness dripping all over the carpet, but one word was all it took for her to understand my situation completely, “WASPS!!!!!” She helped me get the remaining two wasps, one in my arm pit and the other in my shoe, off of me and killed.

    Later, the doctor counted 37 stings. I truly believe that this is the one creature God should un-create.

    PS: I noticed you mentioned using ant & roach killer as your primary weapon. I do not recommend this, as that chemical is not nearly as powerful as the wasp & hornet killer. This is almost certainly why your targets are remaining alive for several seconds or more after your first strike. Screw the green peace eco-friendly crap, you might as well spit on ’em. Get the RAID or Spectracide Brand wasp & hornet killer and those fuckers will drop the second the poison comes in contact with their disgustingly grotesque little bodies. Peace.

    Oh my god, I think would’ve died from the shock. I’ll look for the wasp and hornet killer. We already discovered that eco-friendly insecticides are just glorified perfume.

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