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USES OF WASPS AND NESTS
TO most people the wasp, like the fly and the grasshopper, is a nuisance, a mere pest that the world would well be rid of. Yet the world could not afford to lose its wasps.
They have their place to fill in the scheme of nature; and how do we know but that the sudden extermination of the wasp kind might unbalance the whole solar system and disorganise the universe generally?
Certainly the wasp occupies its place in the world with a confidence that justifies the assumption that it has a right to exist, and is even necessary to the maintenance of terrestrial order.
Nor has man disdained to use it and its nest, though, truth to tell, the principal use made of it in olden time was to cure its own stings; and there may be those small-minded enough to argue that if there were no wasps, their stings would not need to be endured or cured.
It was, and in some places still is, a common belief that wasps can be made -to cure their own stings by being bruised and applied to the wound.
Another cure for stings consists of wasps' combs made into a plaster with willow leaves and mallows.
Also, the earth wherein wasps' nests were built, if mixed with vinegar and applied, was once believed to effect a cure.
Since wasps, if misunderstood, insist upon punctuating their position with more fervour than manners, it is but fair that they should be made to cure the wounds they inflict. However, there is reasonable cause to doubt the efficacy of wasps' nests and vinegar, or of crushed wasps themselves.
But though modern scepticism may have overthrown the poetic justice done the wasps by our predecessors, it is good to remember that once the oil of wasps was recommended by a surgical writer in the seventeenth century as being a cure for their stings; and that another recommended a poultice made of wasps.
A cynical modern writer, who may have good cause to know, says he has “heard of cures, but never experienced one.”
That the sting of the wasp is effective internally as well as externally, is attested by the following sad statement, --
“Allen's wife drank a wasp and fell down and dyed.”
The chronicle does not say whether the lamented Allen's wife drank it on purpose or accidentally.
The worst known case of a malady caused by wasps is that of the Emperor Vespasian, who had a wasp's nest in his nose.
“It was an awful sight,” says the chronicle, and one would think it might be! Saint Veronica, who had been healed by touching the hem of Christ's garment, fortunately for the afflicted emperor, possessed a miraculous cloth, on which was imprinted a perfect likeness of Christ's face. This cloth she took to Rome and held up before the face of the unfortunate emperor, who believed, and was straightway cured.
Wasps have been used for other purposes than to cure their own stings, and they have been known -- or believed -- to bestow good, instead of ill, upon mankind; for the ancients, we are told, attribute “great vertue to the distilled water, and likewise to the decoction of common wasps.”
Also, the large sheets of paper that envelop hornets' nests are used for polishing spectacles in some country places, and the nests themselves are burned and in
haled as a cure for asthma or colds. They are also burned near horses that are troubled with colds or with distemper, and are given to them in their feed “to cure thick-windedness.”
Moffett, moreover, has a friendly word for the wasps, and informs us that “their use is great and singular, for besides that they serve for food to those kind of Hawks which are called Kaistrels or Fleingals, Martinets, Swallows, Owls, to Brocks or Badgers and to the Cameleon: they also do great pleasure and service to men sundry ways, for they kill the Phalangium, which is a kind of venomous spider, that hath in all his legs three knots or joynts, whose poyson is perilous and deadly, and yet Wasps do cure their wounds.”
A pair of Carolina wrens in the Blue Ridge mountains once selected a large wasp's nest hanging in the entry of a house in which to take up their winter quarters.
They slept in it every night for several months.
The wasps have ever been used to “point a moral and adorn a tale,” and that they did not escape as illustrations of moral lessons for man's betterment, Mr. Moffett thus assures us: ---
“Clemens Alexandrinus, when he would express and declare the foulness and abominable hurt of such sins that do lie in wait, as it were, to deceive, and watch to do displeasure to the life of man, hath these words, --
“ ‘That is, these fat, dull, grosse and Olympicall enemies of ours are worser than Wasps, more cruel and displeasant, and especially sensuall and worldly pleasure.’”
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