Now that I’ve caught it, what do I do with it?

Published 1:37 am Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Betsy had sent me, armed with her outside scissors, out to the Swimming Hole to cut some mint for the season’s first making of mint tea, which is a staple drink at Brownspur for three quarters of the year.  The mint bed around the end of the Store (our guesthouse) had gotten mowed close on my first lawn mowing a week or so ago, but the mint we planted around the huge cypress tree overlooking the Swimming Hole was doing just fine.  I liberated a large handful of the fragrant stuff, and detoured across the back of the pasture to check the plum tree blossoms.  Halfway across I spied an odd-looking contraption moving erratically toward me at the level of the unmown grasstops.  I stopped to check it out, on hands and knees.

It was a wasp of some kind, but not one of those big ole mean red wasps that I hate (and who hate me right back!) nor one of the smaller stripedy guinea wasps.  This one was pretty much glossy black all over, but it didn’t seem to be one of our ubiquitous black dirt daubers.  I mean, I’m an expert on stinging insects, okay?

Anyhow, this low-flying black wasp had caught a fair-sized green caterpillar, which looked for all the world like a junior-sized tomato hornworm, which it may have been, since it’s early in the spring.  Those dudes get big enough to challenge a mockingbird when they’re full grown – I know that, because I’ve seem one rear up and threaten to knock a mocker’s block off, in no uncertain terms.  But that’s at the end of summer, when they are fattening up to hibernate, I’m sure.

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Yet even though the green worm was, at least to my eye, not near’bout full grown, it was still a little bit longer than the wasp which obviously was taking it off to eat – unless it was acting as some sort of air-borne taxi service, ha-ha.  Not only was it a little longer than its captor, it was maybe even heavier.  The reason that the wasp was so low to the ground in flight was that it was obviously unable to get its burden any higher in spite of its efforts.  I mean, wasps don’t actually flap their wings, is my observation, but this’un was as nigh unto flapping as I ever saw!

It stopped to rest only a few feet in front of me, on a dandelion stalk which had lost its seed fluffs.  I carefully laid full length, which put me within arm’s reach of the two insects – isn’t a caterpillar sort of a pre-insect?  I didn’t want to panic the hard-working wasp, just to watch this Revelation of Nature in the pasture.

The wasp seemed to be breathing heavily – funny, I never thought about wasps breathing, before – but finally regained its strength and flexed its wings, ready to fly again, obviously.  But when it tried to take off with its hold – it seemed to be carrying the worm with a bite on the head and with its legs wrapped around the middle – it flapped, but couldn’t lift off, not unlike overloaded helicopters that I had once often observed.  Then I saw that the caterpillar had grasped the dandelion seed head, with as many of its little legs as could reach a holdable portion.  It was literally hanging on for dear life!

I ain’t no fan of wasps, but I was beginning to gain respect for this strange black wasp’s determination.  A song flashed through my mind, about an ant trying to move a rubber tree plant: “Whoops!  There goes another rubber tree plant!”  The insect ceased flapping and rested again, obviously cogitating on this problem.  Then it seemed to lie flatter against the worm’s back, reposition its legs around the green body, and began flapping again – it even looked like it was stinging the caterpillar, to make it let go.  In fact, some of the many legs did release, but not enough.  The wasp settled down to catch its breath, then started flapping again.

Time for Divine Intervention. 

I slid my hand out and carefully snipped the little piece of dandelion head with the mint scissors.  That wasp had sho’nuff built up a head of steam, for it suddenly propelled itself and its burden three feet into the air, and took off across the pasture, headed wherever it was headed; home to Momma, I reckon.

I got up and took the mint in for Betsy to make tea with, feeling pretty good.