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A comforting hum

Or is it something more sinister?

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There’s a warm humming sound coming from inside my wall. I find it comforting but my husband is completely freaked out. We investigate by looking out of the window because that’s where one looks when the sound is coming from inside the wall, right?  We see that our chimney abuts the edge of the window. (First time noticing this detail in more than 20 years). My husband gasps. I see a red brick chimney, he sees a multitude of bees coming and going from behind the chimney. He’s excited. Maybe they’re making honey in the walls? I’m not so excited.

I put a notice out on the handy udcommunitynetwork@groups.io, founded by Beverly Sterner and tech-kept by Brad Walrod. This free email service reaches hundreds of persons in our area and addresses all sorts of situations. I need a beekeeper and many respond to my plight. They’re all rooting for honey bees because, by extracting the queen, a beekeeper can relocate the colony and save about $150, the average cost of one hive. I get some encouraging responses. People suggest waiting until nightfall and warning about colony collapses. Someone asks if I’m sure they’re honeybees.

Not at all sure if they’re honeybees, I’m urged by the experts to take a picture. To get an absolutely clear photo requires removing my window and screen and reaching out toward the bees as they travel between the chimney and exterior wall. My hands shake because, although I haven’t been stung since childhood, I vaguely remember being allergic to bee stings. How allergic? I don’t know. I’ll just go by my younger brother’s reaction, which was hospitalization.

At first, I put on my magnifiers and safely watch the bees through the screened window. I can see that they are carrying something in their little mouths. How cute! Even cuter is their little yellow hineys; honeybees have little yellow backsides. I picture lots of gooey, dripping honey inside the wall. Then I picture large holes in the sheetrock in order to extract the queen. I’m not happy. 

Removing the window screen leaves nothing in between me and the bees. I nervously take many pictures only to discover I photographed the brick chimney. I reach out again and shoot more photos. Finally, by way of a miracle, a single bee is digitally captured. I share the photo with the experts and among the many responses, this one sums it up:

“Ahhhhh! That’s a yellow jacket, disliked by all! Seal up all wall openings ASAP!!! Hurry, get rid of them!!”

I do some research and discover that yellowjackets are actually a type of wasp. Although most beekeepers consider them sociopathic with extreme personality disorders (meaning they are mean), science sees them as “social wasps.” Social, in this context, means aggressive. They are important predators of pesky insects, the kind that damage crops and the pretty plants in your garden. Pesky insects are what they must be carrying in their cute but very mean and aggressive little mouths.

Yellowjackets also eat housefly and blowfly larva. On the downside, each one can sting multiple times and they are very protective of their nests. They can chase you for several yards, just for the fun of it. If they catch you, by the way, they can kill you, but that’s only if you are sensitive and get about 1,500 stings. Although, according to the Entomology and Nematology Department University of Florida’s Dr. Philip Koehler, for very allergic people, one sting can be deadly. I’m thinking the murderous behavior just might outweigh their tendency to eat pesky insects and that maybe I don’t like them. I investigate further.

There are ways to trap yellowjackets, as well as ways to discourage their nest-making, but it all seems too late for us. My husband and I ascertain that if we seal the wall openings as one beekeeper had suggested, the yellowjackets will probably still have access to our house through the weight and pulley channel of our old window—something we really don’t want to seal up unless we never want to open the window again. I discover that yellowjackets don’t like the smell of mint. I bet they especially don’t like it when mint is shoved into their hive, so I don’t do that. I want to ignore them—let them build a nest and then leave for good in the spring. But then I find out they nest in the same place year after year. I start daydreaming of cement mixing and filling in the place where they enter behind the chimney, taking my chances that they won’t come through the house somewhere else. It’s not cold enough to make any decisions just yet but come winter when they’re all asleep, who knows—something very sinister might happen. What would you do?

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