I’ll let you take this journey with me, from ignorance to enlightenment. For the last couple of weeks or so, I’ve noticed that every time I open my mailbox I seem to be disturbing some sort of wasp looking thing. I have a rural style mailbox, in other words, it’s a box on a post at the end of the driveway. The waspamathing is solid black, and while sitting still, it constantly flutters its wings, like a mud dauber (which I grew up calling a dirt dauber), but it’s a little smaller.
So Thursday or so, I came home from work, turned into the drive, stopped the car, got out leaving the driver’s side door open, and proceeded to check the mailbox like I do every day. As soon as I opened the flap of the mailbox, I stirred up a veritable swarm of waspamathings. They were everywhere. I jumped back and started waving my arms to scare them away, and cried “Eek!” (or possibly something worse). Then I began to peer under the box itself, and about that time, a car stops on the street behind me. A woman I don’t know, in a very nice SUV, rolls down the passenger side window and says, “Um, are you okay?” At that moment you have to ask yourself what I must have looked like to her–probably like I was having a seizure at the least, and possibly a psychotic episode. “I said, Yes! I’m fine! It’s just that some sort of bee has built a nest in my mailbox post! But thanks for asking!” Looking back, I can imagine how that sounded. Looking very doubtful, she reluctantly drove away.
I continued my inspection of the mailbox post, and found, just underneath where the flap hangs, a series of tiny holes drilled into the wood. The holes are way too small for the waspamathings to come and go inside the post. Anyway, I knew it couldn’t be mud daubers, because they build nests on the outsides of things. Of, er, mud. I also knew it wasn’t carpenter bees because I’ve seen them at a neighbor’s house.
So today, the guy who takes care of my yard was over mowing, and I decided to ask him. Not like he’s an expert in entomology or anything, but he’s outdoors a good bit, and I thought he might have encountered them. I say, “Something has built a nest in my mailbox post, and I want to show you–but stand back when I open the flap”. I open the flap, and…nothing. For all the activity we saw, there must not have been a flying insect within a hundred miles. They had disappeared, like the lost colony of Roanoke. At that point I was hoping he didn’t know the woman in the SUV, because if they got together I might seriously have had to be on guard for the men in white coats.
But there were still, lucky for me, the tiny holes in the post. He said, “I dunno. Maybe they were hatching and all flew away?” Sheesh. As an anthropology student, we studied linguistics to an extent, and how complex it is in some societies and how simplistic in others. The Inuit have dozens of words for snow, for example, whereas in some African (or was it South American?) tribes, there are only two words for plants, which mean “edible” and “inedible”. Men remind me of that tribe sometimes. In this case it was, Insect in post–problem. Flew away–no problem.
But without further ado, let me say that they turn out to be (drum roll) wood wasps. These wasps lay eggs in holes in wood. When the egg hatches and becomes a larva, it eats its way through the wood until it exits, leaving a 3/4 inch hole. This can take from one to five years (!). I initially said, this can’t be them either…”my” holes are way smaller. And then, and then (the suspense builds…) I found an article about them here, a website from the University of California Davis.
The other name for the wood wasp is “horntail”, because the female’s ovipositor is like a horn, and she uses it to drill holes in wood to lay her eggs. So what I had was a bunch of females laying eggs. They’re done now, and that’s why they’re gone.
Just another day in Florida. It’s a little creepy to think there are eventually going to be big fat wasp larvae eating my mailbox post from the inside out, but if it takes from one to five years, I’m going to take the Scarlett O’Hara approach.