Overall, this was a pretty interesting experience. I captured 7, and one figured out how to get out and stand guard over the container before I brought it in. An almost insulin reaction level of adrenaline released in this endeavor, and then the scary part of bringing them inside, carrying the container in the car, and (really scary) opening the container and releasing them on the road. I released them about 1 mile away, on my way to a 2 mile bike ride at the dog park. I would later (2 hours later) go back to try to get the container, and see that there were still 2 left inside the open container. I have to give it a little more time. Eight down (2 from yesterday), about 12 to go… Their little souls respectfully still with us, and no chemical weapons used!
A little quiz.
After I had caught about 20 of the wasps (and released them), I went to go have another look at the nest, and I was flabbergasted. There was a 6 inch ribboned snake sitting with its head elevated and poised on top of the nest. In the time it took me to go and get my camera, I wondered whether the snake had been paralyzed by wasp stings. By the time I returned, the snake had answered my question. It had disappeared! (It might be still on the top and behind the nest if one looks closely at the picture).
I got stung again today using a smaller jar. There is now a probably sterile one (that bit me) inside the house that I have to catch. I wonder how much venom each wasp carries, and how long it takes to regenerate.
I found a few papers: one from Egypt, one from Brazil, one from China, and a few from North Carolina and New York. The paper from China claims to get about 100 micrograms of venom from each wasp. They identify 2 new principal antigens in the venom (one a hyalouronidase) that compete with horse fly antigens for IgE antibodies. The paper wasps apparently belong to the kingdom Animalia, the phylum Arthropoda (jointed leg), the class Insecta, the order Hymenoptera (veiled wings): suborder Aculeata (stings), the family called Vespidae (wasp), the genus called Polistes (maybe totalitarian? nope I think it has to do with how egg-laying vs. working is established among the colony females). Looking at the pictures, the genus could also be a Parapolybia species varia (page 101) or a Polistes jokahamae (page 85). I think it is a Parapolybia varia. One distinction in this genus is that the queen is not morphologically distinct from the worker. The genus that was being studied in the Chinese paper was Vespa.
The hyalouronidase apparently breaks down connective tissue, increasing permeability of tissue to fluid – causing swelling. It’s sometimes used in medicine to increase drug delivery. Antibodies to the wasp version of this could conceivably cross-react with the 3 active human isoforms, to inhibit physiologically induced swelling, but I doubt it. They are usually pretty specific.
It reminds me of the Native American shaman initiation ritual that I saw once on PBS. The shaman smokes some kind of hallucinogenic substance and simultaneously covers himself with stinging insects. The dissociative effect apparently makes him better able to understand and heal pain.
Update: I found the nest (it’s not the one in the top picture which is an old one, but is actually behind the deck cross beam). There are lots and lots of them down there (I guess it’s hatching). Anyway, I’ve stopped trying to catch them, and have learned how to live with them. My dogs can come up the steps, stand right on top of them, and paw at the door to be let in, without having the wasps attack. I just don’t go out that door when they are on top of the deck (probably a couple of hours a day).