My family members bravely invade countries, capture brutal dictators, convince suicide bombers to knit tea cozies instead, challenge the IRS, face down hospital administrators and boards of directors and the Defense Department, Christmas-shop the Beltway.
I suspect I’m adopted, given what happened last night. Here’s a timeline:
11:15pm: Big day at BeCON tomorrow so I’ve gone to bed early. I’m drifting off to sleep when something gently touches my shoulder. I hear an angry, droning buzz and freeze: The biggest stinging insect I’ve ever seen leaves my shoulder and lands on the lampshade.
I scramble out of bed, grabbing my iPad, frantically google “hymenopeterae,” and start matching descriptions.
- Fuzzy, black and honeygold. Check.
- Sharpish pointy end–I can see the stinger from three feet away. Check.
- Too streamlined to be a bumblebee. Check.
- Way way too big to be a honeybee. Check.
- Extremely irritated expression. Check.
There’s a definite size range in these descriptions, so I find a ruler and sidle up to Mr. Stingything. He’s 2 and 15/16 inches long WITHOUT the antennae. Gulp.
His abdomen is curled and curving down, making it easy to aim that ginormous stinger. Stretched out, he’s probably more than 3 inches long, but to verify that I’ll need to push him flat. Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.
Holy cow. This is the Godzilla of bees.
I’ve sidled a bit too close and, with a furious buzz, Mr. Stingything arrows toward my head. I toss the iPad over the bed and hit the floor–crash. Bug returns to lampshade. I stay down.
11:40pm: Wish I’d had the foresight to wear pajamas tonight; I’m feeling incredibly vulnerable, sting-wise. On the other hand, my PJs would have to be kevlar to protect me against Mr. Stingything. Besides, no pajamas means I don’t have to worry about Mr. Stingything getting tangled in inconvenient places.
I check on the bug; he’s settled on the bottom edge of the lampshade and appears to be taking a bath. After maybe 15 minutes he stops moving and takes a nap, suspended from the bottom of the shade.
I’m still naked on the floor, freezing. I consider inviting Lola and Nikki in for a wasp-flavored snack–my Siamese, ChinChin, used to catch hornets and wasps by the wings, carrying them around with the pointy end flexing just below his lips. Lola can catch a fast-moving fly in her jaws, five feet in the air.
I remember vet bills and decide against it.
12:15AM: I cautiously ease to the other side of the bed, retrieve my iPad and continue research. My new roommate is a European Hornet, although he’s not supposed to live in the northwestern US. Wikipedia says the European Hornet is less aggressive than many of its brethren, but its venom is rich in acetylcholine and more painful than most. It’s capable of stinging until it runs out of venom.
Great. If I go to sleep now I will probably die a painful, overstung death. I consider my options while the bug hangs there, looking smug.
12:30AM: Still considering. I notice Mr. Stingything hasn’t moved in awhile; maybe he’s sick. Perhaps if I wait long enough, he’ll weaken, fall into my waterglass and drown.
12:40AM: That damn hornet looks distressingly robust. I think about hornet spray but (a) I don’t have any and (b) my pillow is in the line of fire.
The iPad says that European Hornets love lilacs and will defend them to the death. Hmmm; maybe I can use that.
First, a weapon. After careful consideration I choose my copy of New Glass Review #30. Good thick paper, coated stock, heavy, and I’ve already read it. Then, the bait: I quietly open a jar of dried lavender–since I don’t have lilac–and pile the buds on the nightstand, under the hornet-on-lamp.
My plan: Overcome with delight at the scent of all those buds, the hornet will leave the lampshade and descend to the lavender. While he’s getting florally stoned, I’ll WHACK him with New Glass Review. Skuuuuuwish! End of bug.
I settle in to wait.
1:00AM: Apparently hornets can tell the difference between lilac and lavender. He’s still on the lampshade, oblivious to the fragrant bounty below.
I wish I had a flyswatter.
1:15AM: This is ridiculous. I’ve been trying to outthink a bug the size of my thumb for two hours…and losing. Enraged, I grab the lavender jar in one hand, lid in the other and LEAP to the nightstand. Swiftly, I clap jar and lid over the hornet. Snap!
Unfortunately, I miss.
The force of the swift-moving jar propels the hornet into the wall and he drops, momentarily stunned.* I dive under the covers. The hornet revives and circles the room a few times, buzzing angrily, then starts thumping my blanket.
1:35AM (est): It’s getting stuffy under here but I’m not cracking the covers until Mr. Stingything stops divebombing the bed.
1:40AM: Silence. I peek. The hornet is silhouetted inside the lampshade, taking another bath. (Whatever else you can say about nasty stinging home invaders, they’re certainly clean.)
I consider wrapping my hand in a sock, reaching up inside the lampshade, grabbing the hornet and squishing it by hand.
I review any weapons-to-hand that might fit inside a lampshade: Stereo remote, shoes, jewelry box, books, my alarm clock. Problem is, a lampshade is flexible, there’s not much room inside and with that angle of attack I’d apply about as much force as a butterfly’s kiss. I need to squish the thing, not make it mad(der).
1:50AM: I slip downstairs, grab a kitchen garbage bag (the drawstring kind) and a roll of packing tape, then return to the war zone. Working quietly, I open the bag wide, and slide it over the entire lamp, pulling the drawstrings shut at the bottom. Then I tape it tightly shut around the base.
The hornet is now trapped inside the bag. I’ll just put the lamp outside, bag and all, and figure out what to do with it in the morning.
2:00AM: Feeling cocky, I thump the lampshade. Take that, bug.
Bug goes berserk. He bounces across the bag, pointy end down (apparently stinging the lampshade). Eventually he lands on a section of the bag and gets very quiet. He’s backlit against the bag in a creepy, prehistoric kinda way so I grab my camera and come in for a closeup.
As I watch, a little black proboscis pokes through. OMG! THE HORNET IS CHEWING THROUGH THE BAG!
(did you know they can do that?)
The hornet’s head emerges, mandibles working furiously. I grab the sock and SQUISH.
Good thing I didn’t try to whap it with New Glass Review #30–that bug was as hard as a carrot. It took a fair amount of fingerstrength to complete, as my entomology professor used to say, “the dorso-ventral flattening effect.”
It makes every bit as big a splat as I thought.
I stuff the lavender buds back into the jar, carefully wrap up the hornetbag and tape it shut (in case this thing comes back to life) and toss it into the trash.
Outside. Then I go back to bed.
Stuff like this is why there’s never much point in going to bed early.
*I was head-down under the blankets by the time the hornet actually landed, so I didn’t actually SEE this. Fast as I was moving, I suspect a hornet in full possession of its faculties would have moved faster, so I’m guessing it was stunned. Or possibly incredulous.