Gateway to the Classics: Will o' the Wasps by Margaret Warner Morley
Will o' the Wasps by  Margaret Warner Morley

Baby Vespa

"I declare," said Theodore, after looking for a minute or two, "if she isn't making honey-comb out of paper!" And sure enough there were three little cells very much like honey-comb cells, but all three attached to a paper stem that was fastened to the window frame, and all three hung mouth down.

"That doesn't look very much like a hornet's nest," said Theodore.

"How about this?" and Uncle Will drew very carefully from his pocket something almost as round as a ball, but made of gray wasp paper.

"Oh dear!" cried Theodore, "is that the way they begin?" He looked into the open end of the pretty little round cup, and saw there was nothing inside except five or six little paper cells like those under the window-frame.

"Yes," said Uncle Will, "this is the beginning. You see each room is partitioned off with a paper wall—like a Japanese house—only these walls are not movable."

"Are these little paper rooms meant for honey, Uncle Will?"

"No, my dear nephew, they are not meant for honey. Wasps would never think of such a thing as storing honey in paper cups,—it is only my dear little wise nephew who could imagine such a thing."

"Oh, Uncle Will!" and Theodore reached out in a threatening manner, but Uncle Will slipped to one side.

"The paper rooms are not for honey," he went on, as seriously as though nothing had happened. "They are the nurseries of the young hornets. In time the youngsters grow so big they quite full up the room, which then becomes a cradle, you see."

"Tell us all about it, and draw pictures so it will be like looking at the real thing."

Uncle Will grunted, then answered, "I don't know how well I can do that, but it will do no harm to try—;here goes!" and he drew a picture in his notebook, then said, "This is the first cell the mother hornet makes—then she lays an egg in it—see?—she pastes it on the side wall of the cell. You must make believe this cell of mine is transparent like glass—so you can see the inside—the hornet continues this until she has made a little cluster of paper cells. Then she builds this pretty paper tent about them, but as fast as the cells are finished she lays a little white egg in each and glues it to the wall of the cell, so"; and Uncle Will drew a picture.

"But when the egg hatches I should think the little grub would tumble out," said Theodore, in perplexity. "The cells are all open at the bottom. I suppose the mother hornet puts in spiders and seals it up," he added with a look of relief.

"Not at all," said Uncle Will. "Your Vespa does not seal up her children and leave them to shift for themselves; she cares for them very much as the worker-bee cares for the bee-grubs in the hive."

"Then why don't the grubs fall out?" persisted Theodore; "does she paste them in?"

"No," said Uncle Will; "she pastes the egg fast but not the larva. When it hatches, it attaches itself to the cell wall by two little claws at the end of the tail, and there it stays for awhile; but when it has reached a certain size, in order to have room it is necessary for it to attach itself to the roof of the cell, and then trouble begins, for you see it has to double up and get hold of the top of the top of the cell with its little jaws. When it has accomplished this, it finds itself fastened to the roof all right, but it is wrong end up!"

"Oh my!" exclaimed Theodore, looking at another picture Uncle Will had drawn, "I should think so. It is clinging with its mouth at the wrong end of the cell—how does it eat?"

"That is the trouble; it now has to turn round again by doubling up its body and catching hold of the roof with its two little feet at the tail end. Then it lets go with its mouth, stretches out, and behold, it is hanging head down, no doubt as hungry as a bear after all this exertion!"

"Did you ever see one do this, Uncle Will?"

"No, I never did, but I have read that that is what happens. I confess I have often wondered if that is really the way the larva changes its place, it seems so much less skillful than the way the wasps usually do things. But it is certain that the grub does move to the top of the cell, and that the change is hard for it, is proved but the fact that it sometimes tumbles out."

"Poor little thing! What becomes of it then?"

"I think it dies," said Uncle Will, "although it is said that the mother wasp sometimes puts it back again."

"I should think they would always be falling out, Uncle Will. I should think that when they want to sleep they would forget to hold on."

"Oh, it is not so bad as that! You see, nature provides pretty well for her children, and no doubt the two little tail feet cling without effort on the part of the larva, just as a bird's feet clasp the perch without effort on the part of the bird."

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