Big thank you from

Ritual that brought the sting of death

by Paul Cormacain

THE wasp attacked the fly with unusual vigour, and unusual ferocity. The fly was very surprised, but the wasp had just passed a death sentence on him and he did not have too long to be surprised.

I never did get a good look at the fly so could not identify it. The wasp was a common wasp.

When a bee stings he injects his barbed sting into you, the sting catches on the skin, the barb does not allow it to come out, and the bee has lost his one and only sting.

The sting is situated at the end of the abdomen and not only does she lose her sting, she also loses the tip of the abdomen. She dies shortly afterwards.

Not so the wasp. Her, sting is unbarbed and if she does not like you she can sting you, withdraw her sting, and live to sting another day. This is of great assistance if you use your sting to kill insects for food.

The queen bee is also a creature with an unbarbed sting. They tend only to sting other queens, a practice which has been described as 'survival of the fittest'. There seems to be a violence culture in these delightful little creatures.

The wasp attacked the fly in mid-flight and held on tightly. I then became aware of the action and watched as the fly, in the deadly embrace of the wasp, slowly sailed down to the ground.

For some reason which I do not understand the wasp then proceeded to tear off one of the fly's wings. To disable it, perhaps.

The fly seemed alive at this stage, for I thought I detected movement.

The sun shone, the earth revolved, the wasp carried on with his deadly business, and then an ant appeared on the scene. Quite unafraid, for he saw that the wasp was busy, he approached close and grabbed the wing in his mouth.

Now this ant was one of our common species, the red ant, the sort that you might come across if you upturn a large stone in summer.

You may well find a number of adults and eggs, and much frantic to-ing and fro-ing, as the adults seek safety, frequently with an egg in the mouth.

The ant tried to turn with the wing in its mouth, presumably to head back to where he had come from.

The wing was light, but it was much larger than the ant, and even though no wind blew the ant could not make headway with the wing.

There were flat surfaces and' some small plants in the vicinity, and while other nearby ants had no problems moving around, the ant with the large wing was tharwted.

He dropped the wing, then grasped it another way, tried to make off. Again he was frustrated as the wing was either caught on the ground or on local growth.

By this time the ant was probably thinking of a nice aphid, and dinner, and cursing his misfortune in coming across a wasp attacking a fly. No more wings for me, he was probably saying.

It is believed that all ants 'milk' aphids, and some even form a symbiotic relationship.

The common blue butterfly in the south of England had an 'arrangement' with wild thyme and a species of ant.

When the butterfly laid eggs, and the eggs became caterpillars, the ants carried them off and fed them on baby ants. In return the ants stroked the caterpillars and they produced a sweet bodily secretion which the ants thrived on.

So now the wasp attacked the other wing and pulled it off. And again, the reason for this behaviour seemed obscure.

The ant thought this was a good thing, for he dropped the first wing and dashed in to grab the second.

But the troubles were as before, for no matter which way he moved, no matter which way he grasped the wing, he could not get it to move any distance.

Meanwhile the wasp was becoming more mobile. He knew his dinner was dead, he knew he had got rid of the wings, and suddenly felt more mobile. He seemed to eat part of the fly, then another small part of the fly fell off. The ant stopped his efforts with the wing, dashed in yet again, and this time grabbed the small piece of fly and galloped off. Much easier than an old wing, he seemed to be saying.

The wasp, who must have young at home in the hive, now realised the kids must be getting hungry. So she did a perfect lift-off, headed into the sky, and back to the kids.

With our unpredictable weather, who can say when the wasps will move from flesh to the sweetness of fallen apples, or sugar, or jam. But some day soon the wasp will not have to attack flying flies.

Coming Events

Each Saturday and Sunday in August - Guided tours at Castle Espie, 2.30, details from 9187 4146

Each day in August - Pondamonium, finding out about our water creatures, far example the creatures which feed the ducks at Castle Espie, who will tell you more ifyou phone 9187 4146.

Each Sunday in August - Boat trip from Maghary Country Park to Coney Island, 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, phone Oxford Island on 3832 2205.

Monday 12 to Friday 16 August - Monday 19 to Friday 23 August - Children's Wildlife Summer School, Oxford Island, 2.30, sounds good, call 3832 2205.

Sunday 18 August - Have a look for grayling, silver-washed and dark green fritillaries, at 10.30, Belfast-Hills, starting Belfast Castle car park. Contact Butterfly Conservation on 9077 5317

Thursday 29 August - Birdwatch Morning at Castle Espie, at 10.30, details from 9187 4146.
Bat night at Colin Glen Forest Park, 9pm, details from 90614115

Saturday 31 August - Butterfly search in east Antrim, at 10.,30; on lookout for blue, copper, peacock, fritillary. Contact Butterfly Conservation, 9335 5565

Ulster Star