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

The Carpenters

"S EE, Uncle Will, there is a little bit of a yellow jacket," said Theodore, as he and Uncle Will were on the porch one day.

"What is it doing?" asked Uncle Will.

"It is gnawing wood for its nest—why, no! what is it doing, Uncle Will? It seems to be making a hole in the beam."

"We must attend to this," said Uncle Will. "I somebody is boring a hole in our beam it must be going to build a house there, and we must be looking after the title deed and the rent and all that."

"But yellow jackets don't bore holes in wood; only carpenter bees do that—at least that is the way as far as I know."

"I am glad you ended up that way, my dear young philosopher, for the truth is, you do not know the whole story about wasps—nobody does. And that little yellow jacketty-looking creature is no yellow jacket, as you would see if you looked carefully enough."

"Is it a solitary wasp? I believe it is a carpenter! Is it a carpenter, Uncle Will?"

"Your guess has hit the right mark this time! A carpenter it is."

"How hard it works! See its head move! It doesn't make the sawdust fly like the carpenter bee, but then it isn't half as big as old Mrs. Brushylegs. And what a big head it has!" he added as the wasp backed out of its hole and stood on the beam a minute before flying away.

"Big head and jaws—big for its size, I mean, of course," pursued Uncle Will. "When a wasp has to work in wood it must be equipped with good, strong wood-cutting tools, you know."

"Here it comes back again. Do you think it took a little flight to rest itself, Uncle Will? or maybe it went after a big of luncheon. It must get hungry working so hard—why, there it is again! Oh, Uncle Will! did you see that?" Theodore exclaimed, as the wasp emerged again and flew away. "It had sawdust in its mouth and flew a little way off and dropped it, and here it comes back again. See, it has got its head in the hole and is working as hard as ever."

You can imagine that Theodore watched with interest for the little wasp to come out again, and presently it did, with another load of sawdust which it carried to a distance and then dropped as before. Back and forth it went, gnawing out bits of wood, dropping them on the ground and returning to repeat the operation.

"It is odd," said Theodore, "for it to do that. The carpenter bee just pelts ahead, gnaws the sawdust loose and kicks it out, until sometimes it comes out in quite a stream. Why! you can tell where a carpenter bee is working by the heap of sawdust under the nest."

"Perhaps," said Uncle Will, "that is why this pretty little wasp carpenter carries away the litter; she may not want it known where her nest is."

"Isn't she just a wise one!" said Theodore admiringly. "But we wouldn't disturb her."

"I doubt if she troubles her head much about us," said Uncle Will. "You remember the agile little enemy that so troubles the miner wasps?"

"Yes, and so taught them to close their nests when they go away. Has this little carpenter of ours an enemy like that?"

"I hope that this particular one has not, but such is often the case. They little villain goes in when the wasp mother is away seeking provisions, and lays her own egg on nice stung spider or fly—and you know the rest of the story."

"I hope it won't happen this time!" said Theodore; "but if it does happen I hope we shall be on hand to see it. Perhaps we could catch the villain and save the day."

"Perhaps we could, but these little rogues are as quick as a flash and to catch them is no easy task. If the wasp sees one she chases it, but it is so quick and so small that she is not able to catch it—at least not as a rule."

"There she comes, and I believe she has a fly, Uncle Will—see, she has gone in with it!"

"Yes, the house is built, the nursery is furnished, and soon it will be provisioned and sealed up. So we will leave it and betake ourselves to the garden to make the acquaintance of another carpenter—if she deserves the name—for she only bites through the hard part of the stems of the berry bushes and cleans out the soft pith inside; here we are," and Uncle Will drew aside the long boughs of a raspberry bush for Theodore to see. He looked for some time before he found the round hole the wasp had made in one of the stems.

"She doesn't have to work very hard, Uncle Will."

"No, she is next in laziness—or is it cleverness?—to those that plaster up keyholes. Here in the hollow stem she has found a safe home. Here she brings her plaster and walls up cell after cell as the insects are stored within and the eggs laid."

"Will it kill the bush, Uncle Will?"

"No, not unless a high wind should come along and buffet and twist the bushes in its merry glee, or the berry pickers bend the bough too much—then, well, then the twig where the nest lies, weakened because of the hole bored through the bark and the long tunnel hollowed in the pith, may break off. If there are a great many of these wasps the berry growers sometimes suffer."

"It is a pretty little thing, said Theodore, as the wasp suddenly appeared upon the scene and popped into the round hole in the stem; "when will the young wasp come out?"

"It is so late now it will probably lie dormant till next spring."

"Yes," said Theodore thoughtfully; "summer is almost gone, and what a lot we have learned about wasps!"

"Yes," said Uncle Will, with a twinkle in his eye, "we have learned a great deal, but not nearly all there is to learn. We might spend all our whole lives studying wasps, and still leave enough undone to fill several lifetimes."

Theodore shook his head.

"It would be good fun to study out a few new kinds of wasps, but I should not care to spend my whole life that way," he said.

"No, nor I," laughed Uncle Will. "The best way, I think, is to study them for recreation. Then we can have a real good time and learn something too."

"Next spring we will go at it again. Dear me, Uncle Will o' the Wasps, I wish it was next spring now!"

"What about coasting and skating?"

Theodore laughed.

"Oh, of course, I don't really want the winter gone. But wasps are such interesting folks when a fellow has an Uncle Will o' the Wasps to introduce them."

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