IT HAPPENED ON A RECENT TRIP - The Bell Wasp Nest

Anyone who has spent time in the rainforests of Latin America will be quick to tell you that the rulers there are not the jaguars, the piranhas, or the anacondas. The rulers are the insects, most especially those that bite or sting. We once took a group of wildlife enthusiasts on an expedition trip to the headwaters of a seldom traveled river. They were interested in any and everything, but one fellow in particular, a forester from Mississippi, really felt at home. All week he noticed things usually only the guides could spot. He was having the time of his life, and his interest really spiked when we found an abandoned Bell Wasp nest while we worked our way through flooded forest.

Bell Wasps make distinctive paper nests that look like huge cylindrical white cakes suspended from tree branches along river courses. Up to five feet in height, the white color makes them easily visible. The nest we found was in a dead tree right at deck height. Typically, Bell Wasps crawl around on the outside of their nests and this one had none in evidence. We tapped on the nest, marveling at the thickness and durability of the paper. Then the gentleman from Mississippi said that since it was abandoned he would like to take it home with him. After cautioning him about possible difficulties with the airlines and customs, he was still insistent. He cut the branch off above and below the nest and returned to the riverboat with it, where he leaned it against the wall in an interior hallway on the riverboat. (You can probably imagine where this is heading.)

Everything seemed to be fine for a couple of days. That's when the wasps woke up. Soon enough we found ourselves on deck as we pondered our alternatives. The boat we were using had a single hallway with a door towards the bow and another towards the stern. The nest, naturally, was about midway along this hall. It was apparent that someone would have to fetch the nest and remove it, and the logical person to perform this unenviable task was the tour leader. So, with crew members manning each door, in he went. When he picked up the nest and ran towards the stern, one of them opened the rear door and let him charge past, hurling the nest of angry wasps into the river on the starboard side and diving into the river on the port side. Aside from ridding the boat of the problem wasps and providing fodder for lots of laughter from everyone on board, the tour leader's only consolation was the free rounds at the ship's bar!