This has been a day of wardrobe malfunctions. Admittedly, mine do not necessarily attract the attention some of the Hollywood pop crowd can generate, but I find both just about as annoying.

The new retriever is good to train because he is utterly focused on me. He is beside himself when I come into the house whether I have been gone hours or minutes. Within seconds he is presenting me with things he hopes I will fling for him and is generally never more than 5 feet away no matter what I am doing. His angst is manifest when I leave the house. He pesters Dr. Wifey, but when we both leave, he is totally at loose ends. His solution is to find something I have touched and chew on it until I return. If this is a scrap of paper I have tossed into a wastebasket, the only problem is picking up debris. When the object is my right slipper, I am more put out.

The other element in the plurality of malfunctions relates to the fact Dr. Wifey is a fan of snaps on my outdoor clothing. I prefer zippers but, needless to say, my new Carhart jacket has snaps. The day started below freezing and the new jacket got some use. I became quite used to coming in the house, grabbing the bottom of the garment and popping open the whole row of snaps.

Later in the afternoon, the temperature rose, making the jacket too much. I switched to a flannel shirt and worked on wood for a few hours. Coming in just before sunset, I was hugely annoyed to see the pup carrying my slipper again. Retrieving it from the retriever, I put it on, noted the sole did not feel right, and set about putting down all my various burdens. I was ready to shed the extra coat when I noticed the pup was heckling something on the floor. It turned out to be a large wasp, so instinctively I shoved him back and stepped on it. This was a mistake because the wasp took great exception to being squished and gave me a great sting right on the ball of the foot — since the slipper sole was completely gone. My interest immediately changed to getting my outer wear off and getting some papain for the sting, so I grabbed the tails of the shirt and gave a great pull to unsnap it.

The buttons on the shirt did not react well to this.

Four of the seven flew across the room. Clyde ate two before I, hopping on one foot, could drive him off and find the rest. It is times like this I thank my lucky stars there is no one about to take videos.

The wasp, by the way, made her escape and has yet to be located. She will probably emerge in the spring to give me another sting or two before making her way outdoors.

Apart from getting stung, fall is the time when people most often begin taking note of the wild wasps and hornets. The one that retaliated against me was a Polistes wasp, the black paper wasps that make the round, flat nests we find under the eaves of the house. Generally, you have to do something annoying to get them to sting. The same cannot be said of their more odious cousins, the hornets and yellow jackets. Please note, the taxonomic identities of wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are pretty convoluted and vary depending on where in the world you happen to be. I am not striving for scientific rigor here, just using the more colloquial terminology.

The reason these insects become a matter of interest in the fall is because that is when they are the most visible. The black paper wasp nests generally remain as hidden as they are in the summer but the animals themselves are absolute geniuses when it comes to getting inside your home.

Some yellowjackets nest underground or inside pipes, hollow trees, trailer hitches and the like. Under these conditions, the nests look much like the paper wasps’, large flat galleries of hexagon-shaped cells made of wood fibers, chewed to a pulp and extruded to form the structure. The real biggies, in terms of the “Holy mackerel, where did THAT come from” factor are the large round nests made by some yellow jackets and the black and white bald-faced hornets. These structures, some football-sized or larger, are essentially big paper tents covering a gallery of flat nests like their cousins’. It is quite amazing how things this dramatically large can remain hidden throughout the growing season, becoming obvious only when the leaves drop in the fall. I had one, nearly basketball size, quite near to the ground on a blueberry bush. I had picked berries, mowed, and pulled weeds right beside it all summer.

The typical question when someone finds one of these nests near their house has to do with how to get rid of it and how to keep them from coming back in the spring. The answer, and associated good news, is you have to do nothing. As the days get shorter, the queens begin to lay eggs that make more queens, instead of workers and drones as they have all summer. These queens mate and then spend the winter hibernating. When the warm weather returns, they emerge and each starts a new nest in a different location. The paper nests are never reused and none of the summer inhabitants spend the winter within. After a few hard freezes you can safely knock the nest down (assuming the mice have not already dismantled it to line their nests).

Hopefully by spring our house hornet will be outside somewhere and the darned mutt will have quit eating my footwear, although I think the odds for the former are much better than the latter.

Bob Henke writes a weekly outdoors column for The Post-Star.


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