Feeding the Hungry Infants
"I wonder what the little upside-down larva has to eat, Uncle Will—what does the mother wasp feed it?" and Theodore began to dance about his uncle, now on this side, now on that, as they went out next day to hunt for wasps' nests.
"Be quiet, you
At this Theodore threw back his head and began to laugh. He laughed and laughed, and then he began to sing; and this is what he sang:
And then Uncle Will had to laugh too, and I am sure that everybody now sees how this book came to get its name, for Theodore often called his uncle Will o' the Wasps after that.
"Now I'll be still," said Theodore, "if you will go on and tell what the baby Vespa has to eat."
"Well, then, you ridiculous infant, as soon as the larva hatches out Mother Vespa goes off hunting. When she has caught a fly, or some other dainty game bird—why are you thumping me, sir?—oh! well, dainty game insect, then—when she has captured her prey, she chews it to a pulp, but instead of swallowing it herself she flies back home and feeds it to the hungry young grub in the cell. Since the grub hangs mouth down, and generally with open mouth too, it is easy for the little mother to feed it."
"It is just lovely," said Theodore, delightedly.
"Yes, isn't it?" said Uncle Will. "And when the baby wasps feel the mother jarring the nest as she enters, they pop out their little heads and open their mouths!"
"Oh, oh!" squealed Theodore, "how I want to see them!"
"Only have patience," said Uncle Will, "and very likely before the summer is over you will have a chance."
"Don't they see the mother coming?" asked Theodore, after thinking a moment; "have they no eyes?"
"Yes, they have little pin points of eyes, like the bee larvae; but how much seeing they do with them I am sure I do not know. They have the tiniest little black eyes which are not faceted like the eyes of the grown-up wasp."
"They are simple, like the eyes in the top of the wasp's head," said Theodore.
"Yes, that is it."
"And the wasps feed their young just the way the bees do, only the bees give their young honey and bee-bread, which I think is nicer than flies."
"That is because you are a boy," said Uncle Will; "if you
were a wasp you would feel differently. Perhaps the wasps do
give their babies honey as a treat sometimes, for the
"They are carnivorous, like lions," said Theodore; "but the bees are herbivorous like the gentle cows and sheep. Maybe that is why wasps are such fierce people."
"Maybe so," said Uncle Will. "And yet even hornets can be tamed."
"Oh, now, Uncle Will!—one Pelopaeus at a time you can tame, but a whole nestful of hornets!"
"I don't know that you could get them tame enough to carry about in your pocket," said Uncle Will; "but I do know that they get used to people when they build near a house, and they have been known to live on very friendly relations with their human neighbors. However, they don't often get a chance, for when people find a hornet's nest starting near the house they generally demolish it."
"I think it is too bad to spoil their pretty paper houses," said Theodore. "Do the hornets do any harm except to sting people?"
"Well, they sometimes steal meat."
How Theodore laughed at that. "Steal meat!" he cried; "who wouldn't let them have a little piece of meat no bigger than a pin head!"
"That is all very well," said Uncle Will, "if they would be content with that. but suppose a whole nestful, or two or three nestfuls, should visit the butcher's shop every day and many times a day, and gnaw and nibble his meat to pieces, and carry off pounds and pounds of it."
"Oh, but they don't do that, do they?"
"They have been known to," said Uncle Will. "Not that we have anything to fear from them in that line in this part of the country, but they do bite our ripe fruit sometimes and do a great deal of damage."
"But they catch flies and insects," said Theodore.
"Yes, that is so; and I have heard that people have been known to hang a wasp's nest in the doorway to keep the room free of flies."
"My!" said Theodore, "I think I would rather have the flies. Didn't they sting the people most to death?"
"No, they did not sting them at all. You see, they learned to know them. As soon as they understood that the people were not going to hurt them they did not hurt the people."
"How about visitors?" asked Theodore.
"Well," said Uncle Will, "I have heard they would sometimes
sting strangers, and since we want visitors to come in
safety to our house I think we will not use the wasps as
"No," shouted Theodore, "I guess we won't! But these little nests in the shed can't do any harm, there are too few wasps in them."
"Oh, are they?" said Uncle Will; "you just wait! Do you know what happens next?"
"I suppose the mother Vespa makes more cells, but this
little bit of a
"There is a strange story about how the nest grows," said Uncle Will, "but that will have to wait until to-morrow, for I must be off now."