The sting

Unwelcome visitor © Photoxpress

No, not the film with the divine Paul Newman and the almost equally divine Robert Redford. I’m talking about the plague of wasps terrorising our area. We thought it was just around our place, but so many other people have said that they are also suffering that we have to conclude it’s more generalised.

In 13 years here, we have never experienced anything like the hordes of wasps that have suddenly appeared this August. A few days ago, we had drinks outside with friends whom we had invited for dinner. They requested red wine as an apéritif. A mistake. We spent half an hour fishing drunkenly moribund wasps out of their glasses before finally admitting defeat and going inside. At lunchtime today, we had just laid the table outside when a squadron of wasps started dive-bombing our plates. After some frenzied napkin waving, we again retreated indoors. Neither of us is particularly bothered by the odd wasp, but when they turn up en masse it’s a different matter.

Injury was added to insult this evening when, while inspecting the site of a large heap of rubble that we had removed this week, a wasp stung me, unprovoked, just below the right armpit. Not the act of a gentleman. This was my third wasp sting this summer; I’m astonished that I haven’t had more.

I have not yet found an explanation for this unwelcome invasion. I suppose that there are simply years like that. We don’t have any more fruit than usual, nor do we appear to have any wasps’ nests in the vicinity.

Last August, we had a potentially even more serious invasion. We gradually became aware that a hornets’ nest was in full development in the attic above our pigeonnier – which leads off our bedroom. Having noticed the insects from the outside flying through the open attic window, I went upstairs and gingerly raised the trapdoor a couple of inches. A continuous low buzzing and the sight of an amazing construction – the nest itself – greeted me. Undisturbed for several months, the hornets had built an incredibly complex nest, hanging from the beam, with galleries and different levels. It’s amazing (and just as well) that we were not particularly bothered by the hornets; just one or two occasionally came into our bedroom in the evening and were quickly despatched.

However, we couldn’t allow them to continue building a nest just above our heads. After some trial and error (including phoning the Mairie who hadn’t a clue about what you should do in this situation) we phoned the Fire Brigade (pompiers). They no longer deal with wasps’ or hornets’ nests themselves, since this has now been farmed out to private companies. But if you phone 18, the pompiers will put you onto an answering machine message that gives you the numbers of all the private pest control experts who deal with the problem.

Since it was August, the first four (out of six) numbers I phoned were out of action. Happily, the fifth worked and the man promised to come on a certain day to do the deed. It turned out that he came from Décazeville in the Aveyron – about 70km from us. He was very efficient, clad himself in protective clothing, went up and sprayed some noxious substance on the nest, brought it down after half an hour and showed it to us and then charged us 90€ for the privilege.

He said we wouldn’t have any further trouble with hornets up in the attic for at least a year. He’s right – we have assiduously checked every week for signs of reconstruction and they haven’t come back.

He didn’t say anything about wasps, though…

Copyright © 2010 A writer’s lot in France, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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6 Responses to The sting

  1. Maria says:

    “Bee” aware, Vanessa! We have also encountered those uninvited visitors in Sweden…beside that I hope you have had a pleasant summer. It´s already getting chilly here in Gothenburg, 5 degrees C in the mornings. Brrr!

    Love Maria

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    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Maria, good pun! It seems the wasps are everywhere this year. It’s also chilly here in the mornings; early yesterday it was only 8 degrees, but it gets hotter during the day. It’s very dry – we have had very little rain this summer and the trees are starting to suffer.
      Hope you are all well.
      Love, Vanessa and Per

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  2. Cynthia says:

    Interesting. I live on the other side of Decazaville, along the River Lot and we have had horrid wasp and hornet problems for five years….until this year where there have been very few. Perhaps they have moved over to your area. However, I agree with Stephanie that there is a new type of wasp in the area and she describes it perfectly. I have seen a few but so far, no stings. Yours, Cynthia

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    • nessafrance says:

      Yours have obviously migrated over here this year for some reason. I’m quite happy for you to take them back! As I mentioned to Stephanie, we have always had the long-legged variety but they too are more numerous and aggressive this year, along with their cousins who hover around one’s dinner plate. It has got particularly bad during the past two weeks. Because it’s so dry here just now, the wasps are desperate for water, which is why they immediately invade any liquid you take outside. I have been putting bowls of water at the end of the garden to try to attract them away, but they might be having the opposite effect. Cordialement, Vanessa

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  3. Stephanie says:

    I’ve had problems with some type of wasp that lurks round our rubbish bin this month. I got stung twice in a week – the varmints just shot out and stung me, completely unprovoked. They’re strange wasps – very yellow and with long back legs, not like normal wasps at all. Very aggressive. We’ve had hornets in the chimney, and although they’re much better natured than wasps, we had to deal with them as they were getting into the kids’ rooms at night. So you have my sympathy entirely. Wasps aside, enjoy the rest of the summer.
    Amitiés, Stephanie

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    • nessafrance says:

      We also have the variety with long back legs, but they have always been here, along with what I call the normal ones. The long-legged ones can land on the surface of water (notably our swiming pool), drink and then take off again, whereas the normal ones tend to drown. I agree they seem very aggressive. Hornets are much less bothersome, until aroused no doubt, but you still don’t want them nesting in or anywhere near the house.
      Amicalement, Vanessa

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