Wonder Wasps

By: Jim Virkler; ©2011

Most children enjoy all manner of critters, including those in class insecta. They take pleasure in capturing, caressing, and controlling the creatures, at least for a brief time. Insects make up more than half of all the organisms on this earth. So it was not difficult to locate a few interesting ones in our neighborhood when our grandchildren visited the past several years–grasshoppers, walking sticks, katydids, butterflies, wasps, and ants, to name a few. Thousands of volumes have been written on the appearance and behavior of the one million insects already catalogued. For young children, however, nothing compares with informal “field studies.”

For the past several summers, great golden digger wasps have resided among the paver blocks in our driveway. Mention of the word wasps causes some people, both old and young, to shrink away or even react in unwarranted attack mode. One of Grandpa’s first tasks was to encourage a gentle, inquiring demeanor, including sitting still, being quiet, and observing thoughtfully. This strategy worked. We discovered most wasps, especially these types, known as “solitary wasps,” are not interested in attacking or stinging. After the wasp’s initial suspicion of the large animals observing her, she quickly resumed her busy excavating activity, descending her vertical tunnel only to emerge pulling out dirt and small pebbles and kicking them into a mound just outside the tunnel. The action continued until a large pile was formed.

Later we observed the wasp returning from the fields carrying anesthetized grasshoppers or katydids. After carefully laying its prey down it backed into its hole, then methodically dragged its victim down into one of the horizontal subterranean tunnels it had constructed. A single egg, deposited on each specimen it had acquired, would soon hatch into the larva stage and begin consuming the parental provision. The pupa stage remains in its sealed compartment over the winter only to hatch into an adult next summer and renew the same sequence of behaviors. In order to instill sentiments of respect for such wonderful creatures in my grandchildren, I have referred to the critters in our neighborhood with expressions such as “our” birds, “our” butterflies, or “our” wasps. In a real sense, they do belong to us.

Some may object that the predator-prey relationship manifest by such animals is a disturbing indicator of a creation gone awry. This is not the case. There is real purpose behind their existence and behavior. The digger wasp and tens of thousands of similar creatures do far more good than harm and generally should be left alone. Many function as population controllers for harmful organisms, natural recycling agents, and clean-up managers. In addition, many insects are valuable pollinators of food plants. Without them, human life would be impossible.

Evolutionary biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was incorrect on many of his proposals, but coined the concept of ecology which he defined as “the comprehensive science of the relationship of the organism to the environment.” In the last fifty years there has been a strong movement encouraging the study of ecology and how its understanding and application benefit humanity. We give God the glory for creating such a large variety of animals and plants to occupy unique ecological niches.

The great golden digger wasp is a genetically programmed animal. It is unable to “think about” adapting to a slightly different sequence of events in its quest to provision its tunnel nursery. Such a degree of adaptation is typical of higher level animals. A sense of wonder is a natural outcome of an encounter with an animal such as the digger wasp because they are naturally equipped with marvelous inherent behaviors. Other varieties of digger wasps are programmed to use slightly different strategies for removing the dirt and stones from their tunnels. Instead of pulling, other species are pushers, carriers, or scrapers. Perhaps the Creator had a sense of humor when He designed unusual physical features and programmed the animals with diverse, unique behaviors.

We usually think more in terms of the wonders of higher animals such as vertebrates—mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. The writer of the Book of Job wrote majestic descriptions of such animals because they were more obvious and accessible, even though far less common in terms of the quantity of species. Only about 58,000 catalogued species exist of all five vertebrates combined.

Millions of species interrelate in ways mostly beneficial to the inhabitants of our planet. Our Creator has “provisioned” earth’s environment with countless creatures, great and small, for specific purposes. The more we understand the interactions of those creatures, the more we understand why God pronounced His creation “good” and “very good.” The Creator took pleasure inspecting His works. In our surroundings and in descriptive literature, we also have multiple opportunities to recognize purpose and take pleasure in God’s created creatures.


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