Putting on a yellow jacket

October 17, 1994|By Gwinn Owens

WHEN WE ADDED a deck on our little house, upon which to enjoy our pre-dinner martinis, my wife insisted we call the new addition a veranda, on grounds that one may guzzle beer on a deck, but one sips martinis on a veranda. In any case the new veranda is a joy until late summer or early fall. Then come the yellow jackets, nature's prime party poopers, threatening us like the Tontons Macoutes until we yield the territory and flee for cover.

Resentful at having been driven indoors, we, in desperation, buzzed over to our local farm and garden store and bought a yellow jacket trap. Following the directions, we put some slices of apple in as bait, and waited to see what would happen.

Not much. The first few days it caught three or four, but not nearly so many as buzzed around us, with our martinis and some brie and crackers (also veranda fare). Then we noticed something very interesting. The yellow jackets eschewed the brie and crackers. It was -- I am not making this up -- the martinis they coveted. The little fellows would light on the edge of the glass, reach down and take a sip.

It was rather amusing to watch but, at the price of gin, who wants to share his or her martini with a yellow jacket who may not have brushed his teeth? The phenomenon did, however, yield an enterprising thought: Why not bait the trap with martinis?

I have to explain first how the trap works. Under a cover, is a pan with a grate-like bottom upon which the bait is placed. That sits on a container with an inch or so of water in it. On the sides, just above the water line, are four conical holes, decorated on the outside to look like flowers. The holes are wide at the entrance, but narrow down to about yellow-jacket girth on the inside. The potential victim smells the bait, crawls into the hole and finds himself inside. But the bait is where he can enjoy the aroma, but can't reach it. He flies around in there until, exhausted, he falls into the water and drowns.

So in place of the apple slices, we put two pieces of crumpled paper towel, one large, one small. The large one was -- obviously -- drenched with gin and the small one with vermouth. Probably a little of each dripped through to the water below, which became a highly diluted martini. We didn't bother with olives, pearl onions or even a twist, assuming that yellow jackets were not all that sophisticated (and if they were, how would we know their preference?). They got their first martini one morning last week.

Did it work? Wow! Thirty-two yellow jackets the first day, plus one large fly and a moth. This was 10 times the catch with the apple slices. On subsequent days the numbers were comparable, reaching 48 one especially warm day. They really turn out on warm days, we found out, as we exulted at the success of our martini plot.

I'm sorry if the animal rights people celebrate yellow jackets as sentient creatures and condemn me for cruelty. All I can say is, let these bleeding hearts get stung, the way I did. It smarts. And if it is any satisfaction to the wasp-huggers, we discovered there are still enough yellow jackets left who prefer to drink directly out of our glasses, and are still doing it. Damn.

Gwinn Owens is a former editor of this page.

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