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Totems: Wasp

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

When you are being attacked, criticized or bullied can you remain who you are? "Just being" without apology is an art seemingly lost to many humans in this time. The animal kingdom retains the ability to exist in the moment, completely self-possessed. WE ARE THE WASP PEOPLE. Whether we live together or are solitary, we accept who we are now and what we have. We sustain ourselves and our young through daily work. How do you nourish yourself and your children? Do you teach them how to dream and feed them from yours?

I have an amazing wasp nest on my porch. I picked it up after it had blown down from an oak tree by the river. It still has leaves and twigs where it was attached to the tree. Bald-faced Hornets made it. I like wasps – at a respectful distance. I have found the Paper wasps that sometimes hang around my house to be quite peaceful. I usually gather them with a jar, releasing them outside, where they fly off gracefully looking like miniature Great Blue herons with their legs dangling.

If you’ve never seen a Hornet’s nest, it is a thing of beauty. It is sphere-shaped with wave-like striations like you’d find on the windswept sandstone in New Mexico’s Canyon de Chelly. Wasp totem folks are master builders, architects and developers. A large Hornet’s nest has 12 combs containing 15,000 cells, surrounded by walls of layered paper. Inside the heart of the nest are tiers of six-sided, hexagonal cells like in beehives. This is where wasp larvae overwinter. Unlike bees, wasps abandon their nests in autumn and build new ones in spring. Nature is so brilliant. Did you know that the hexagonal shape allows the maximum number of cells to occupy the smallest area?

Wasps belong to Hymenoptera, the same order as bees and ants. Workers are female; male drone function is to impregnate the queen. A wasp queen’s only function is to produce eggs and she is the only female who does. Queens determine the sex of their offspring. If they want males, they withhold sperm stored in their bodies, because males are unfertilized eggs. Fertilized eggs become sterile females. The sub-order Apocrita includes parasitic wasps, whose larvae feed off their hosts, and "true" wasps, having the famous wasp-waist, the narrow, highly flexible hinged joint between a wasp’s thorax and abdomen. The ovipositor is a stinger instead of an egg-depositor. Ovipositors are hollow organs connected to a poison gland inside the abdomen. If disturbed, the insect protrudes the stinger, stabs the victim and injects poison into the wound, resulting in intense pain. A bee stings you once and then dies, but a wasp keeps on stinging. The other sub-order Symphyta includes wood wasps, also referred to as Horntails. Wood wasps drill holes into dead or dying conifers for their larvae, with a stiletto-like extension at the rear. Since the larva can take up to three years to develop, it may wake up being part of a building!

Wasp stings paralyze prey but do not kill, so the prey does not decay. The female wasp lays an egg on the insect, on which the larva feeds as it grows. Whereas all bees are vegetarian, larvae and some adult wasps eat insects. They are key in the food chain for controlling insects like mosquitos, flies, caterpillars, aphids and spiders. Now, what predators are courageous (or foolhardy) enough to prey on wasps? Predators are raccoons, skunks, bears, amphibians, reptiles and spiders. Notice that spiders are in both categories, which makes for an interesting energetic relationship. If spider is your totem or you are a writer, can you benefit from the bold expressiveness of wasp in your subject matter?

There are 400 species of wasps in the U.S. and 75,000 worldwide:

Paper Wasps: their nests are made of strong papery material that is a combination of plant stems and fibers of dead wood mixed with saliva. Wasps do not make honey. Paper wasps feed larvae on pellets of chewed-up insects. People with wasp totems have strong digestive systems.

Yellow Jackets: have the same yellow and black coloration as bees. Yellow jackets also live in spherical, papery nests, but underground.

Hornets: If you’ve ever had a close encounter with a hornet’s nest, you know where the expression, "stirring up a hornet’s nest" comes from. As social insects, they fiercely defend their nests if disturbed, and their sting is nasty. Ancient cultures associated wasp with fertility. Hornets are important pollinators. Some ingenious plants have evolved flowers that mimic the shape and coloration of a female hornet. When the male tries to mate with the flower, it receives a dusting of pollen instead.

Velvet Ants: are actually Digger wasps that take their name from the wingless female covered in velvety hairs. Their brilliant color warns of their powerful sting.

Though it is as fine as a human hair, the ovipositor of an Ichneumon wasp can drill 3-centimeters into wood with a 4-inch long ovipositor in 20 minutes to lay eggs in or close to the wood-boring larva of a Horntail wood wasp.

Mud Daubers are solitary wasps, which use pellets of mud molded into place by the wasp’s mandibles. Some construct tubular pipe-organ nests.

They’re called Potter Wasps for a reason. Their homes look like clay jugs. The female carries a water droplet, mixing it with dry clay earth, then fashions it into a jug-shaped nest.

Cicada-killer wasps fly with a captured cicada easily 5 times its weight.

A wasp known as Fairyfly may be the smallest insect at .0055 inches.

Tarantula-killer wasps: The female can get so intoxicated on nectar and rotting fruits she is unable to fly. When sober, the female uses scent to track down a tarantula. A fierce battle ensues until the spider is dragged to the wasp’s burrow where, using her head as a hammer, she tamps down earth with a pebble, sealing the tarantula’s tomb. An insect using a TOOL?

Wasp is a good totem to mirror back to us our aggression. When wasp shows up we find ourselves being more forthright in our communications with others. We stand up for ourselves. Wasps can be either solitary or social. Do you spend too much time alone or not enough? Some species are more aggressive than others. In late summer/autumn when their queen has stopped laying eggs, the queen, workers, and males are dying. They have less food and need energy. The workers have more time to "get into trouble." They go looking for sugar to boost their energy. Sugar+humans=trouble. The newly mated young queen will hibernate and carry on anew the following spring.

When we have conflict with some being in the natural world it’s usually over sharing space or food. The fact that we are often infringing upon or taking over the natural habitat of the species with which we are in conflict rarely occurs to us. They are trying to survive and thrive, just as we are. So, why don’t we care about them? The point is we make a judgment about the value of their lives as opposed to what we want at that moment, or their value compared to other "cuter" species. Why make a choice? Let us value all life forms as sacred. They wouldn’t have been created if they didn’t have a place to fill in planetary ecology. Gaia doesn’t favor one species over another. Why should we?

I have a lot in common with wasp organization and productivity, being a Virgo and all. For a while now, I’ve had an increasing desire to organize my house, let go of non-essentials and focus on unfinished projects. Wasp is an excellent totem to help us organize ourselves and become productive in areas where we have either been procrastinating or haven’t had the energy to tackle. Especially in autumn, we can use what would otherwise be classified as aggression to funnel this energy into projects.

Every seven years, we experience, not only a renewal of all cells in the body, but also evolutionary cycles of aggression that promote independence. A child of 7 begins to feel a sense of identity by saying no. At around 14, privacy and hormonal changes pave the way to adulthood. They need an adversary. A 21-year old knows everything, right? The upside to this is that as each cycle continues, the independence gained is a proper use of aggression.

Wasp is also a perfect ally for those with ADD or ADHD because it helps one to focus. Many of our sensitive Indigo and Crystal children have been lumped in a big ADD pile. You can help your children or grandchildren practice concentration and sitting still by taking them into nature and giving them centering exercises. Closing their eyes, they can tune into other senses first. Show them how to have "deer ears" by cupping their hands behind their ears and pushing them forward, increasing the ability to hear. Ask what they hear-birdsong, wind? What they smell-earth, wet wood? If they stick out their tongues, does the air have a taste? Let them open their eyes, look straight ahead, then go around like a clock noting what they see at each position. Finally, have them look down at their feet and examine the square foot of earth there. Of course, you’ve brought paper and crayons so they can write or draw their experiences!

For the expanded WASP article go online to wisdom-magazine.com. For more info on the significance of the number 6 see previous totem article on Grasshopper

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer, writer, and steward for the natural world for over 35 years. For Healing for you or your animal, Training, or Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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