A true tale of interaction with a hornet.
|In Praise of Hornets
In the summer of 2010, there was a hornets' nest in the eaves of our house, just above the spot on the back porch that we chose to sit in the sun and catch a tan. When we noticed the hornets (which was hard not to do as they multiplied through the hot and sunny days), I was successful in persuading all comers that they be left alone. I have found this to be an effective strategy with most creatures, even wasps and African bees; if you don't bother them, they won't bother you. Andrea did her usual research on the net and confirmed that I was even more correct than I had realised. Hornets, it seems, are predators on insects and do us a lot of good as a result, munching on mosquitoes and flies that might otherwise annoy us. And, being carnivorous, they do not get drunk on rotting fruit in the autumn as do wasps; so there are no cases of unprovoked hornet attacks on humans.
We learned also that hornets do not return to the previous year's nest, preferring to find a new site in the spring, and our hornets duly departed as winter came on, never to return. Except, perhaps, for one, a lone ranger that interacted with me for a brief moment in the year following. Let me tell you the story and then you can can make up your own mind on my thoughts on the visitation. I must begin with tomatoes, however.
At the time, we were experimenting with the tomato plant with the idea that fresh fruit from the garden is bound to taste better than the cosseted offerings of the supermarket. It proved more difficult than expected but we learned a lot as we went along. The year after the year of the hornets, we succeeded in growing a magnificent tomato plant in spite of the summer being unusually cold and wet. There were other difficulties to overcome too, not the least of which was the advent of caterpillars to give you nightmares. So large were they that protecting our humble tomato plant was not too difficult (they are hard to miss once their camouflage has been penetrated) and, eventually, I was pretty sure that I had found and disposed of them all. Our tomato plant flourished, free from the caterpillar menace - or so we thought.
And now our errant hornet enters the tale. I was standing in the doorway of the porch one bright and sunny morning when I noticed a hornet buzzing around in circles near the doorpost. It was apparent that he had no intention of landing but was hanging about almost as if hoping to catch my attention. This impression was reinforced when I spoke to him (some brief and polite greeting, I think). He immediately flew over to the tomato plant and resumed his circular hovering just a few inches from the leaves. I watched, wondering what he was doing.
At this point, the story becomes open to interpretation. I have thought about it long and hard and become half-convinced that my reading of the matter is correct - call me a romantic if you will. The thing is, that hornet hovered there until he was sure I was watching and then he dodged quickly into the plant and away again. To me it seemed that he was indicating something to me and, when I investigated, I found a large, fat and perfectly camouflaged caterpillar munching contentedly on our tomato leaves. Meanwhile the hornet, seemingly satisfied that his work was done, wandered off and disappeared over the lawn.
Well, I dealt swiftly with the caterpillar and then fell into reflection on the whole affair. I know that certain wasps lay their eggs in caterpillars but the hornet showed absolutely no interest in such a performance. And this is a hornet we're dealing with, not a wasp. Yet there is no doubt that he went as far as touching the miscreant worm and then waiting until he was sure I had found it before he flew off. This looked to be rather more than a chain of happy coincidences.
Androcles and the lion springs instantly to mind. Was it possible that this hornet was one of the previous year's brood that had been visiting old haunts when I appeared? And had he already noticed the caterpillar and decided to warn me of its depredations, perhaps in repayment for my stout defense of his nest in the past? I know it seems unlikely and yet there is more in heaven and earth, Horatio, than is dreamed of in our philosophy.
Unlikely it certainly is - but not impossible. And, if I prefer to regard it as a polite exchange between two creatures without ill intent, what harm is done? Perhaps it might even encourage others to regard hornets in a fairer light in future. They do as little harm as my little story, after all.
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