I sometimes tell people that while in university I unofficially minored in bugs.
As a biology student I had many options for my options, but my interest veered sidelong into a course of courses in the entomology department. I exited with a bachelors degree in genetics, but the extra educational suitcase I had brought along was stuffed full of souvenirs from my study of insects.
Packed in that suitcase, I’ve always adored the word Hymenoptera.
hai - muh - NAAP - ter - uh
Or, the order of insects that contains wasps, bees, hornets, ants and other similar six legged critters.
The summer of 2021 was apparently a good year around here for a particular kind of yellowjacket wasp.
Popular opinion was that there was more than just an uptick in the aggressive insects population over the last few months. Call it a surge. A bumper year for hymenopterans. Nearly everyone had a story of being stung, dealing with a nest, or even the consequence of the crop of pandemic puppies encountering angry bugs for the first time either in their campsites or own backyards.
A nearby neighbour must have had a nest in their yard and for a couple weeks solid the little drones took over a corner of my backyard and harassed the dog (who never did seem to figure out that they were never going to play nice with her.)
I reluctantly put a trap on a tree and caught a few hundred, but to be honest it neither made much of a dent in the population nor made me feel good about myself.
There is a balance to everything, and I noted this most acutely when (after dealing with weeks of wasps and yellowjackets in and near the city) we vacationed in the mountains and hiked for hours without seeing so much as a hint of those black and yellow stripes.
Our attempts to control and manicure the local suburban ecosystem with the species of plants and critters we think we like, the ones that are pretty or simple or tasty, has a side effect of throwing into chaos the nature tug-of-war we can’t quite see, and which manifests as weeds and coyotes and mosquitos and wasps terrorizing those same spaces as we eliminate natural predators or encourage invaders to take refuge in the vacuum.
The mountain ecosystem, by contrast, has seemingly still not tottered onto its side and the result is that we were able to hike without much fear of being stung.
Eaten by a bear, maybe, but stung… less so.
Yet now, twenty years after graduating from university I don’t do much with or recall many facts from my biology education but I have this vague sense that I can see the loose threads of the ecosystem imbalance, that I can talk and write about it with some confidence, and that one of the hundred dollar words I can always lean on is Hymenoptera.