Friday, November 4, 2011

Encounters 3 - Hornet


Have you ever seen a hornet close to? I thought I had. My father used to claim he'd been stung by one - right next to my eye, he'd say, like a dagger; could've blinded me. If ever we saw a large wasp, to him it was a hornet; and as you do when you're a child, I believed him.

But this summer I saw one for real, in the woods at Somerford Common. It was hovering near a mound of straw, a nest of some kind with a small tunnel entrance. And it was huge - the hornet that is - this wasn't a large wasp, it was a golden, iridescent, gob-smacking monster. It's enormous, I kept saying aloud; absolutely bloody huge.

In truth, it was about the size of my thumb. But when you see something so wonderful and so unexpected, its presence distorts and focuses your perception. You'll have experienced something similar if you've ever photographed an animal in the wild, thinking it filled the viewfinder and yet the end result was as a disappointing dot on the horizon.

And even if it had filled the frame, it could never be the same. That hornet is burned in my memory more surely and with more reality than any digital image. For a good few minutes I watched it hover in and out of the entrance, moving forward and back, never changing its orientation, droning and buzzing like - well, a hornet.

The noise and size of hornets has led to them to be misunderstood, feared even. Yet their sting is no more powerful than a bee, and they are far less likely to attack. It's a common occurrence for hornets and birds to share the same hollow tree. Though evidently, it's inadvisable to kill one near a nest as this releases pheromones that can disturb and 'anger' a swarm.

But who would want to kill such a fabulous creature? This year I've seen some wonderful animals; I watched a Peregrine stooping over the cliffs at Ynys Barry, a million starlings massing at Plumstone, a seal giving milk to its pup... and yet I reckon that hornet was the best by far.

My father was surely wrong. I don't doubt he was stung by something, but hornets don't reach as far north as Northumberland, and nothing we came across compared to what I saw this summer. I can still see it now: the plates of gold, the wings a-blur, the jewel in the straw. God, it was huge.

12 comments:

  1. I am shuddering with fear even as I recognize it's beauty...

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  2. Hello Mark:
    How wonderful a creature and such a great pity that hornets have, for whatever reason, a bad name and are generally disliked if not feared. Interesting that they are not to be found as far north as Northumberland.

    Jó hétvégét.

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  3. Really enjoyed that one, Mark. I'd love to see a hornet up close.

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  4. Isn't that what men say about other things too...?! A figment of the imagination...

    I have witnessed the most ENORMOUS ones in France. Huger than Huge. Terrifying. I can't bear insects, let alone overblown monstrous ones. Nothing can I find beautiful in an enormous stinging machine flying like a German WW2 bomber towards my head. No, no, no. I do NOT like!!!

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  5. I can confirm hornets are docile creatures. I have them and wasps on the allotment. The wasps always sting, the hornets don't.

    I also found one in the washing basket this time last year (duly photographed and blogged!). Must have been there for some time, but it quite happily perched on the windowsill for ages after I'd released it before eventually flying off.

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  6. A lovely piece of writing, Mark. I've only seen a hornet once, in our garden in France and it truly was enormous. Despite its reputation for ferocity I felt totally unthreatened, as it didn't seem to notice my presence.

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  7. I don't think I have seen a hornet, is that the same as a horse, or bot fly? When I had horses I got stung by them, right through my clothes and the bites would swell up like a golf ball.

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  8. There was a hornet nest in a wall of one of our houses in France. They used to delight us both, but it was always a struggle to make visitors leave them alone. All that swiping and ducking and diving...enough to make even a hornet sting.

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  9. I would query the 'no further north than Northumberland' reference. When I first bought a house in Scotland I found what I supposed to be a wasps' nest in the porch and called our environmental health to deal with it. They said it was actually a hornets' nest and thus not a risk and they wouldn't deal with it.
    To be fair to them, they still removed it...

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  10. That must be very rare Catherine (or they were wrong) all the journals and websites I can find put the UK range as no further north than Nottingham - and that after considerable expansion in recent years. But regardless, what a magnificent insect.

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  11. I'm sure we had 'em in Wallsend, cos one stung me once, on the face, coulda lost an eye! Or maybe that was just an irate bluebottle! They were hard lads those blueys. :-))

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  12. Incredible beast. I haven't seen one in this country but abroad, yes... I didn't know they weren't aggressive. Thanks to you I shall now look on them at next encounter in a quite different light. :)

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