The great hornet battle

>>The great hornet battle

Members of my family invade countries, capture brutal dictators, face down suicide bombers, challenge the IRS, Christmas-shop the Beltway.

Given what happened Saturday night, I suspect I’m adopted.

11:15pm: Big day tomorrow so I’ve gone to bed early. I’m drifting off to sleep when something gently touches my shoulder. I hear an angry, droning buzz and freeze: The biggest stinging insect I’ve ever seen leaves my shoulder and lands on the lampshade.

I scramble out of bed, grabbing my iPad, frantically google “hymenopeterae,” and start matching descriptions. Fuzzy, black and honeygold. Sharpish pointy end–I can see the stinger from 3 feet away. Extremely irritated expression.

Too streamlined to be a bumblebee. Too big for a yellowjacket and WAY too big for a honeybee. There’s a definite size range in these descriptions, so I find a ruler and sidle up to Mr. Stingything.

He’s 2 and 15/16 inches long, longer if you add in the antennae. The abdomen curves down; he’s probably longer than that if I stretch him flat. Like that’s gonna happen.

Holy cow.

With a furious buzz, the thing dives off the lampshade and arrows toward my head. I toss the iPad over the bed and hit the floor–crash. Bug returns to lampshade. I stay on the floor.

11:40pm: Wish I’d had the foresight to wear pajamas tonight. On the other hand, they’d have to be kevlar to protect me against Mr. Stingything. Besides, no pajamas means I don’t have to worry about Mr. Stingything getting tangled in inconvenient places.

I check on the bug; he’s settled on the bottom edge of the shade and appears to be taking a bath. After maybe 15 minutes he takes a nap (above, left), suspended from the bottom of the shade.

I’m still on the floor, freezing. I consider inviting Lola and Nikki in for a wasp-flavored snack–my Siamese, ChinChin, used to catch hornets and wasps by the wings, carrying them around with the pointy end flexing just below his lips. Lola can catch a fast-moving fly in her jaws, five feet in the air.

I remember vet bills and decide against it.

12:15AM: I cautiously ease to the other side of the bed, retrieve my iPad and continue research. My new roommate is a European Hornet, although he’s not supposed to live in the northwestern US. Wikipedia says the European Hornet is less aggressive than many of its brethren, but its venom is rich in acetylcholine and more painful than most. It’s capable of stinging until it runs out of venom.

Great. If I go to sleep now I will probably die a painful, overstung death. I consider my options while the bug hangs there, looking smug.

12:30AM: Still considering. I notice Mr. Stingything hasn’t moved in awhile; maybe he’s sick. Perhaps if I wait long enough, he’ll fall into my waterglass and drown.

12:40AM: The hornet looks distressingly robust. I think about hornet spray but (a) I’m not sure I have any and (b) poisoned pillows are a bad idea.

The iPad says that European Hornets love lilacs and will defend them to the death. Hmmm.

I carefully choose my weapon: New Glass Review #30. Good thick paper, coated stock, heavy, and I’ve already read it. I carefully open a jar of dried lavender–since I don’t have lilac–and pile the buds on the nightstand, under the hornet-on-lamp.

The plan: Overcome with delight at the sight of all those buds, the hornet will leave the lampshade and descend to the lavender, where I’ll WHACK him with New Glass Review. End of bug.

1:00AM: Apparently hornets can tell the difference between lilac and lavender. He’s still on the lampshade, oblivious to the fragrant bounty below.

I wish I had a flyswatter.

1:15AM: This is ridiculous. I’ve been trying to outthink a bug the size of my thumb for two hours…and losing. Enraged, I grab the lavender jar in one hand, lid in the other and LEAP to the nightstand. Swiftly, I clap jar and lid over the hornet. Snap!

Unfortunately, I miss.

The jar lid propels the hornet into the wall, where it drops, momentarily stunned.* I dive under the covers. The hornet revives and circles the room a few times, buzzing angrily, then  starts thumping my blanket.

1:35AM (est): It’s getting stuffy under here but I’m not cracking the covers until that thing stops divebombing the bed.

1:40AM: Silence. I peek. The hornet is silhouetted inside the lampshade, taking another bath. (Whatever else you can say about nasty stinging home invaders, they’re certainly clean.)

I consider wrapping my hand in a sock, reaching up inside the lampshade, grabbing the hornet and squishing it by hand.

Yeah, right.

I review potential squishing implements–stereo remote, shoes, jewelry box, books, my alarm clock. But the lampshade is flexible, there’s not much room inside and I’m not going to get much force at that angle of attack. The last thing I want to do is make the hornet mad(der).

1:50AM: I slip downstairs, grab a kitchen garbage bag (the drawstring kind) and a roll of packing tape, then return to the war zone. Working quietly, I open the bag wide, and slide it over the entire lamp, pulling the drawstrings shut at the bottom. Then I tape it tightly shut around the base.

The hornet is now trapped inside the bag. I’ll just put the lamp outside, bag and all, and figure out what to do with it in the morning.

2:00AM: Feeling cocky, I thump the lampshade. Take that, bug.

Bug goes berserk. He bounces across the bag, pointy end down (apparently stinging the lampshade). Eventually he lands on a section of the bag and gets very quiet. He’s backlit against the bag in a creepy, prehistoric kinda way so I grab my camera and come in for a closeup.

As I watch, a little black thing pokes through. OMG! THE HORNET IS CHEWING THROUGH THE BAG!

(did you know they can do that?)

The hornet’s head emerges, mandibles working furiously. I grab the sock and SQUISH.

Good thing I didn’t try to whap it with New Glass Review #30–that bug was as hard as a carrot. It took a fair amount of fingerstrength to complete, as my entomology professor used to say, “the dorso-ventral flattening effect.”

It makes every bit as big a splat as I thought.

I stuff the lavender buds back into the jar, carefully wrap up the hornetbag and tape it shut (in case this thing comes back to life) and toss it into the trash.


Then I go back to bed. Stuff like this is why there’s never much point in going to bed early.

*I was head-down under the blankets by the time the hornet actually landed, so I didn’t actually SEE this. Fast as I was moving, I suspect a hornet in full possession of its faculties would have moved faster, so I’m guessing it was stunned. Or possibly incredulous.



  1. jamesb June 3, 2014 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    Hi i came to your site because im trying to learn the pate de verre method and i read your funny story here. I live in kentucky so im not sure if your geography allows for it but it sounds a lot like a Cicada Killer wasp…essentially a 50 caliber bullet with wings lol we see them around here quite a bit but hey are usually not aggressive. we had a dog who grabbed one once in his mouth: when that thing stung him it looked he had a softball on the side of his head for 3 days.

    • cynthia June 3, 2014 at 11:38 pm - Reply

      I don’t think those wasps get that far west (especially northwest), but the resemblance is startling!

  2. Sheree August 18, 2013 at 9:36 pm - Reply

    Too funny. however Im deathly allergic to bees and have to carry a epinephrine autoinjector err a EpiPen. I have never been stung by a hornet thank goodness!

  3. Cynthia December 11, 2012 at 9:42 am - Reply

    Drones. Hmmmm. Do drones have stingers? This one’s looked long, pointy and very, very sharp. 😉

    Hey, are you coming to the party Saturday night? It’s OGG and liable to be a trip. The housepainter is sick and won’t resume painting until next week, so basically my entire main floor is devoid of art, rugs, knickknacks, etc. (I’m beginning to think my house is fated NOT to ever be painted)

    We’ll bring in folding tables and chairs and stuff, so there will be lots of room! Please come.

  4. Jerry Jensen December 7, 2012 at 4:20 pm - Reply

    Alot of what e see this time of year is drone wasps that are kicked out by the queen in a hive because they use up stored resources and breeding is suspended in cold weather. The drones look for warm cracks to survive in and often creep through cracks to get warm and once warm start to move about. I just squish them with whatever is handy, they usually haven’t fed so they are slow. They like to crawl into outdoor tarps so open them carefully in winter and spring.

  5. Dee November 10, 2012 at 1:03 pm - Reply


  6. Lani McGregor October 24, 2012 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    Can’t stop laughing!

  7. Peter McCarthy October 24, 2012 at 10:56 am - Reply

    Glad you survived! Just one minor note: that hornet was a she. Males don’t have stingers.

  8. Emily Brock October 24, 2012 at 9:37 am - Reply

    Roadrunners in a house full of glass require Kevlar gloves. I don’t know what non glass workers use to capture and release. Loved your adventure.

  9. Brenda Griffith October 24, 2012 at 8:17 am - Reply

    This was absolutely hysterical! I especially loved it when he started to chew through the bag. I don’t think I’ll share the story with Jessie…

  10. gary brown October 24, 2012 at 7:37 am - Reply

    I’m sure Jeff could have provided you with a Suitable Weapon…

  11. Ed October 24, 2012 at 6:59 am - Reply

    vacuum cleaner or a dust buster works well on spiders too

Comments welcome! (thanks)

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