Summer life can be simple but hazardous
How did we survive summers?
We didn't have a pool, so we slid across the yard on a wet piece of plastic. We could feel every rock and twig on our way to a crash landing. We went to the park and climbed up 50-foot metal slides that were 200 degrees by lunchtime. There was no cushioned pad at the bottom. There were rocks. We didn't have helmets or knee pads or sunscreen or cell phones. All we had were bikes. There was one rule in summer: Be home by dinner. Life was so simple and dangerous.
The outdoors can be hazardous. There's poison ivy, spiders and snakes. Let's not forget wasps.
Wasps belong to the hymenoptera order that also includes ants and bees. They are often characterized by complex social orders that include queens and workers.
While there are solitary wasps, such as mud daubers, and tiny parasitic wasps the size of gnats that feed on insects, it is the social wasps that are infamous for their fiery stings.
Social wasps include hornets, yellow jackets and paper wasps and build nests from wood pulp mixed with saliva. Paper wasps' nests are typically small and hang upside-down with individual cells reminiscent of a honeycomb. Underground yellow jackets nest in abandoned rodent burrows or tree hollows and can number in the thousands.
Young daughter wasps are queens for the next generation and are usually the only ones to survive winter to start a new colony in spring.
Wasps develop through complete metamorphosis. The egg hatches into a larva, similar to a caterpillar. The wasp larva rests helplessly in the nest waiting for the adult to bring food. Wasps feed on many insects and pests, so they're not all bad. They also have a sweet tooth, feeding on fallen fruit such as loquat and jelly palm. They've been known to sneak into a soda can and turn your lip into a water balloon.
While some insect orders have developed biting mouthparts to feed or defend, hymenoptera have a lethal weapon: the ability to sting.
Most insects have an ovipositor used primarily for egg-laying, but a wasp's ovipositor evolved into a stinger. It looks like a needle upon close inspection and injects toxins upon penetration.
Bees die after they sting, leaving the ovipositor embedded into your skin. It's important to scrape the stinger out as soon as possible but do not squeeze since the venom sac is still attached.
Wasps, on the hand, don't lose the stinger and can hit you multiple times.
At first, the sting is sharp and fiery. The body responds by flooding the area with water, which causes swelling. Wash the sting with soap and water and then apply ice. An antihistamine can be taken to treat the swelling and itching. For most people, the wound area will be sore for more than a couple of days.
Some people are allergic to hymenoptera stings. Severe reactions, such as chest pain, facial swelling, difficulty swallowing and breathing, can occur within minutes and become fatal if not treated.
Some people carry an EpiPen adrenaline injection that can be administered. A doctor should be consulted as soon as possible.
Most often, wasps are not aggressive unless the nest is disturbed or you accidentally grab one. They're likely to leave you alone without swatting at them.
However, it's a good idea to have a can of wasp and hornet spray on hand that has quick knockdown capacity for the nest over your door or in the garage. For ground-dwelling nests, soapy water poured into the hole can be a safe method for control.
However, there are synthetic insecticides labeled for ground applications. Read the label first.
More dangerous than wasps, we played lawn darts when I was a kid. They were giant darts we threw at a ring on the ground. The game was outlawed in 1988. We survived that, too.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.