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

How the Nest Grows

"N OW, good Uncle Will o' the Wasps, let us have that queer story about how the nest grows," begged Theodore the very first chance he got.

"Well," said Uncle Will, "as soon as the little bell-tent has all the cells it can conveniently hold, the wasp builds a larger tent about it, and then another over that, but when the interior becomes filled with cells, she tears down the first, or inside tent, and so continues tearing out the inside, and building on the outside. Thus she is ever enlarging her house without uncovering it."

"Isn't she clever," exclaimed Theodore, "to do it that way! If she took the old tent off before making the new one, the little cradles might get wet."

"That is the point, I suppose, and she probably wants to keep her little ones warm."

"Does just one wasp have to build the whole nest?"

"Oh, no indeed! one begins it—the queen wasp."

"Oh, I see," said Theodore, "it is like the bees!"

"Not quite," said Uncle Will, "the wasp queen starts all alone, while the queen bee always has a swarm of workers to help her, you remember."

"But where does the queen wasp come from?"

"Well, it is this way. In the autumn she creeps away into some warm corner and lies dormant until spring. When spring comes, you will see the big queen wasps looking about for a good place to build."

"Like the bumble bees," said Theodore.

"Yes, very much like the bumble bees. The queen finds a building site that suits her, and then begins. She makes the cells and feeds and cares for the first grubs. When they have grown to their full size—"

"She covers over their cells," finished Theodore, "just like the bees."

"Don't jump to a conclusion too quickly," said Uncle Will. "Wasps are not bees, you know, and the mother wasp does not seal up her cell—her infant saves her the trouble by doing it itself!"

"How can it?" exclaimed Theodore; "where does it get the wax or paper I suppose it would want?"

"It does not use either wax or paper. It uses silk."

"Oh my!" said Theodore, "I suppose it has silk in its mouth, then."

"Yes; it secretes a sticky liquid that pulls out into silk threads, and it is very little trouble for it to weave a nice silk curtain over the end of the cell when the time comes."

"When it has eaten all it can find and feels tired and lazy," added Theodore.

"That is probably the way it is," agreed Uncle Will.

"It must be a great help to the mother hornet not to have all that to do," said Theodore.

"Yes, indeed, it is no trouble at all for each to weave its own, but it would be hard work for the wasp mother to have to weave at all, particularly as she does not stop building cells and laying eggs and feeding the grubs as they hatch out. She is busy all the time with no workers to help her. That is, not at first, but in a few days the little pupae complete their transformation, and you know what next."

"If wasps were like bees," said Theodore slily, "I should guess they gnawed a hole in the cap and crept out full-grown wasps, with wings and all."

"Yes," said Uncle Will, laughing, "you guessed right this time. And they resemble the bees in yet other ways."

"Are the young wasps workers?" demanded Theodore.

"Yes," said Uncle Will heartily, "that they are, and as soon as they have dried their wings and looked about a little they take upon themselves the responsibility of feeding the grubs and of building new cells and new house walls."

"Are they smaller than the queen?"

"Yes; they, like the bumble bee workers, are much smaller than the queen. And now you know why, in the spring, we see a few big hornets flying about and later a great number of smaller ones."

"The big one is the queen, who later stays at home and lays the eggs, I suppose," said Theodore.

"Yes, that's it," said Uncle Will. "The queen now devotes all her time to indoors duties, while the industrious workers go abroad to collect wood-pulp and catch insects, and steal meat from the kitchen table."

"And do the workers know, right away without anyone telling them, how to make the paper houses?"

"Right away they go to work making a paper house, just as the young bees go to work in the hive," said Uncle Will; "but it happens that a great many nests are begun and never finished, like these little ones I have in my pocket. You often find them at the beginning of the season."

"I wonder why that is," said Theodore.

"Perhaps the birds are sometimes to blame," said Uncle Will. "Perhaps they catch the queen and eat her, perhaps she gets drowned or lost, strayed or stolen, or maybe she has decided she has made a mistake in taking her abode, and changes the site before it is too late."

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