MethowBy Joanna Bastian

Vicious wasps took our mailbox hostage last week. Our brave postal lady continued to deliver the mail despite the hostile takeover by stinging insects. I looked in three different shops to find bare shelves above any sticker stamped with the words, “wasp repellant.” Apparently my mailbox was not the only victim in the violent wasp coup.

Fall must be in the air because those little buggers are becoming aggressive. Last week we carried plates heavily laden with delicious food to the outside deck, and were quickly driven back inside by the onslaught of wasps. It was like a scene from Monty Python with dinner guests yelling, “Run away! Run away!”

Local legend has it that Twisp residents chose their town name due to the number of “twisps,” or wasps, in the valley. I often wonder whether, if Twisp had been named something different, like say, Ladybug, we could be overrun with ladybugs every year instead of wasps.

As I stopped by the Carlton General store for more wasp repellant, I was pleasantly surprised to run into Susie Kowalczyk, who had been checking up on her honeybee hives. She expressed the concern that wasps were attacking her hives.

Wasps are meat-eating predators that also enjoy eating honey. They find a bee colony and attack bees one by one, snapping the bee in half with their strong mandibles. Wasps are sugar junkies. They find a honeybee hive and come back with reinforcements, kill all the bees, and rob the honey. There are horrifying videos on YouTube of wasps versus bees.

Poor bumblebees and honeybees get a bad rap because of wasps. Vegetarian bumblebees and honeybees quietly gather nectar and pollen while gently pollinating fruit and nut trees, melons, squash and alfalfa.

Wasps, on the other hand, are not quiet or gentle. Wasps swarm your outdoor barbecue and devour the savory chicken drumstick from your very hand. Commonly called “meat bees,” an unfortunate misnomer, these voracious little beasts belong to the wasp family.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, honeybee colonies in the United States have dropped from 5 million to 2.5 million since 1940, with the sharpest declines in most recent years. From 2006 to present, annual colony losses have averaged nearly 33 percent a year.

Studies point to climate change, monocrops, pesticides and other environmental causes playing large roles in population declines within honeybee colonies. Those poor little working gals have enough to contend with. Getting eaten by a wasp that everyone mistakes them for is just adding insult to injury.

Many people resort to wasp traps and wasp repellant to control the winged beasts. My neighbor Lindsey keeps a bottle of hairspray nearby and sprays the offenders, covering them in flight-disabling stickiness. I found a do-it-yourself wasp trap online that the author claimed worked better than the store-bought traps. Fill a bottle with a mixture of beer and jam. The beer will supposedly attract wasps, but not bees. Good luck avoiding the wasps!