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INTELLIGENCE OF WASPS
WASPS possess an intellect that is an honour to them, in-so-much-as it is doubtless a development resulting from their own efforts to accomplish results they were capable of conceiving and of desiring to accomplish.
They know a great deal as a result of what might be called ancestral memory, a memory of deeds their ancestors performed so often that in time such deeds became perfect and automatic; and this memory we are accustomed to entitle instinct.
The mind of the wasp still remains active, the insect not wholly relying upon its ancestral memory for present emergencies. It can still observe, remember, and reason.
Wasps reason well, but they do not argue at all, though where humankind is concerned, they have remarkably effective powers of persuasion. They say to a man, “Go,” and he goeth forthwith.
They are very quick and alert in their movements and have a pretty way of turning their heads to look at one who has made friends with them, so that they are not frightened at his approach.
Wasps, like bees, learn to know individuals, and they have their likes and dislikes, allowing some persons to approach their nest unmolested, and stinging others.
There was once a nest of little yellow-jackets in a wood-shed, where whoever entered was obliged to pass within a few inches of it. This most people could do with impunity. But there was a coloured boy whom the black-and-yellow tenants of the nest could not endure. They would not allow him to enter the shed, or even to come within several yards of the door. “They bite me whenever I go that way,” he complained, and he had not molested them in any way. Perhaps he smelled of deceit, and they were afraid to trust him near their precious paper fabric. Romanes tells of a man who used the wasps to police his premises. This clever person allowed a species of wasp native to Natal to build in the door-posts of his house, and although he often interfered with their nests, he was stung but once, and then by a young wasp. The value of this arrangement is better appreciated when one learns that the wasps allowed no Caffre to approach the door, much less to pass through.
It is generally easy to make friends with the wasps if the nest is near at hand, and if they are never frightened or tormented. They do not sting for the sake of stinging, but only in self-defence. There are a number of cases on record of people having allowed the hornets to build in their houses, and suffering no inconvenience in consequence.
That wasps have a good memory was shown by those that learned to go to their nests through a paper opening of various colours. They not only observed the colours but remembered them.
Once a wasp's nest was built in an attic, and the wasps were in the habit of approaching it through an open window. One day this window was closed, and after bumping against the glass a few times, the wasps found another entrance, and did not again attempt to pass through the window.
Wasps show a good deal of ingenuity in accomplishing their ends. A wasp, having caught a large fly, whose wings, being blown by the wind, impeded its progress, was seen to stop and cut off the useless and troublesome members. It is quite common to see wasps cut an insect in two when it is too large to be carried whole.
More remarkable than this, however, is the device sometimes used by hornets that have caught too heavy a prize. Instead of cutting up the insect, the hornet drags it to the foot of a tree, drags it up the trunk to a branch, from which vantage point it is able to fly with its burden.
Although wasps are very fond of flies, they catch many kinds of insects, and, it would seem, even larger game. There are on record two hunts that outdo all other feats in wasp annals.
Edward Topsell, who wrote the quaint “History of Four-footed Beasts and Serpents,” says, --
“Whilst Pennius was at Peterborough in England, he saw in the wide and open street a Hornet pursuing a Sparrow, whom when he wounded with his sting, he fell down dead to the ground, and with the, admiration of all that beheld them, he suck't out and filled himself with the blood of the slain prey.”
Again Topsell claims to have seen the same thing.
“I myself, being at Duckworth in Huntingtonshire, my native soyl, I saw on a time, a great Wasp or Hornet making after, and fiercely pursuing a Sparrow in the open street of the town.” The end was tragic, as before, the wasp conquering, and sucking the blood of the luckless bird.
Mr. Belt tells a very interesting story of the ingenuity of some social wasps he saw trying to keep the ants away from honey they themselves wanted.
These ants were attending clusters of frog-hoppers, little insects that exuded a sweet liquid much relished by both ants and wasps, and for the possession of which a constant skirmishing was going on.
“The wasps stroked the young hoppers, and sipped up the honey when it was exuded, just like the ants. When an ant came up to a cluster of leaf-hoppers attended by a wasp, the latter would not attempt to grapple with its rival on the leaf, but would fly off and hover over the ant; then when the little foe was well exposed, it would dart at it and strike it to the ground.
“The action was so quick that I could not determine whether it struck with its fore-feet or its jaws, but I think it was with the feet. I often saw a wasp trying to clear a leaf from ants that were already in full possession of a cluster of leaf-hoppers. It would sometimes have to strike three or four times at an ant before it made it quit its hold and fall. At other times one ant after another would be struck off with great celerity and ease, and I fancied that some wasps were much cleverer than others.
“In those cases where it succeeded in clearing a leaf, it was never left long in peace.
“Fresh relays of ants were continually arriving, and generally tired the wasp out. It would never wait for an ant to get near it, doubtless knowing well that if its little rival once fastened on its leg, it would be a difficult matter to get rid of it again.
“If a wasp first obtained possession it was able to keep it, for the first ants that came up were only pioneers, and by knocking these off it prevented them from returning and scenting the trail to communicate the intelligence to others.”
Wasps, as we already know, form their habits according to their environment. Those living near human habitations are more friendly than those living in the wilderness, and they learn to eat the food of man.
It seems the wasps even learn to sting according to circumstances. Our wasps fly directly at the bare face or hands if they have any pointed remarks to make.
Mr. Belt says of the wasps of Nicaragua, --
“I got severely stung by a number of small wasps, whose nest I had disturbed in passing under some bushes. About thirty were upon me, but I got off with about half a dozen stings, as I managed to kill the rest as they made their way through the hair of my head and beard; for these wasps, having generally to do with animals covered with hair, do not fly at the open face, but at the hair of the head, and push down through it to the skin before they sting. On this and on another occasion on which I was attacked by them, I had not a single sting on the exposed portion of my face, although my hands were stung in killing them in my hair. It is curious to note that the large black wasp that makes its nest under the verandas of houses and eaves of huts, and has had to deal with man as his principal foe, flies directly at the face when molested.”
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