Wasp? Pft. Fear is relative.

The other day this not so little critter put it’s sting into the soft, delicate foot of my DS. Yes, there was screaming and also a small amount of panicking.

European Hornet

A Very Dead European Hornet

We quickly spotted the culprit  – a European Hornet (frelon, en français) –  as DS was standing right next to it when the screaming started). The quick-thinking James placed it under house arrest under an upturned PlayDoh bucket, where it would remain until one of us could get out to buy some RAID. It was a one way ticket.

We figured this was one of the two that we’d seen early today, sniffing around the main beam in the house. When we saw them thought, as it was from a distance, that they were two large wasps and, as we didn’t want them deciding to make a nest then heading off to tell mates about this fantastic new beam we’d found, we kept an eye on them then shut the windows when we thought they’d found a way out.

Or so we thought. There seemed to be a few flying around outside and another one came in but soon fled when confronted by an angry mummy (me) with a fresh can of RAID. That evening James found another one over by the fire (also dead – we had fleas a few weeks ago and the house is generally an A1 danger zone for insects, even before the RAID arrived) and DD spotted one on the windowsill. We dealt with those, figuring they’d come in with the one that stung DS or during the day, before we battened down the hatches, and went on with our lives.

The next morning I opened the door onto the terrace and another one flew straight in, like it had been waiting for the door to open. RAID to hand, it didn’t stand a chance and was soon under house arrest, this time under a large jam jar usually reserved for rescuing lizards the cat has brought in.

That put the hornet (in the house) count to four, which is exactly three more than I had seen in my entire life up to that point.

I sat on the terrace for a while to see whether any more were around and, yes, before long there was another. It seemed very interested in the wood around the upstairs window and at the top of the door but, after dabbing around for a while, it bobbed up the wall and made its way over the roof and was gone.

A short time after another one appeared but this did much the same. I didn’t see one go in anywhere and announced as much to James.

Because we didn’t want any of them coming in again but we’d decided to keep all the windows closed until we could get some mosquito nets up – a good idea even without the hornets as there are plenty of wasps around and also some very determined mosquitoes! Saturday came and our mission was clear. We left the house all sealed up and came back with the netting and some insecticide spray that would supposedly act as a barrier when sprayed around window and door frames. James wasn’t convinced it would work but bought it anyway, just in case.

So how was it that when we came in there were two more hornety house guests having a jolly old time in the bedroom? With sll doors and windows sealed it could mean only one thing, so where was the hole they were exploiting?

I sat outside with the littlies while James stayed inside to valiantly battle our foes. He’d said to wait outside making sure his exit was clear in case he had to make a run for it. He emerged a short while later telling me he was fine. It was quite comical listening from outside as the pshhhhhh, pshhhhhhh, pshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh of the RAID can gave a fairly visual picture of the state of play. They’re quite robust creatures but he got there in the end.

We gave those two (taking the hornet count to six) enough time to properly die then sent James in to block up what looked to be their entry point: a giant hole by one of the upstairs windows. I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed it before given it was large enough for a couple of cats to curl up in. Really it could do with being properly filled and sealed but, given we’re renting, we went for the bodge so one inseticide-drenched blanket later and the hole was no more – but, hang on, what was that buzzing noise!?

In the time between taking out the first two and having a breather outside, another one had made it in from somewhere. Maybe that wasn’t the right hole. Maybe there was another hole? Oh boy.

With the hole bunged up James turned his attention to the windows and got the netting sorted out. Surprisingly, the question, “what good is sticky-backed velcro that doesn’t stick to anything,” has not yet been asked on Quora. It should be. I mean… anyway. Wood glue to the rescue. Now we just had to hope that our 4 euro solution was going to be cat resistant.

With all doors locked and all windows either sealed to all airborne creatures or closed, now we could find out whether we were officially on hornet lockdown.

Day 1. No hornets. Not many flies either. Result.

Day 2. Still no hornets. A few more flies owing to our becoming more relaxed about leaving the doors open.

Day 3. Still no hornets.

And that’s it, maybe we’ve cracked it. But what has this to do with things being relative?

Well, in short, I’m no longer one of those people that jumps up and runs around flapping their arms and screeching when a wasp starts buzzing around. And I was that person. To my mind now wasps are teeny tiny little comedy bad guys with a silly high-pitched whine that barely registers. I first observed this change in perception while helping M prepare the pears while sitting in her garden (blog post on this to come). There were a fair few buzzing around while we chopped pairs and I was idly batting them away. Be gone, minor irritant.

Hornets on the other hand. My God, I am not happy about them at all.

And as for DS? He was lucky, we were all lucky; he’s not anaphylactic, thank goodness. We treated it with After Pick® and got him into a paddling pool filled with cold water and ice as soon as he was calm enough to leave my lap. Thirty minutes later he was laughing with his sister and splashing around. But it hurt him a lot. For him, having lived his first 16 months without fear, without pain (except for the odd toddler tumble or his routing injections) it was traumatic, to the extent that he now stops dead, points, and then screams his little head off if there’s anything unidentified – fluff, plant material, an insect – in his field of vision. It’s all relative and I feel terrible that he had to go through that. If only it had been a wasp.

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Wildlife Wonderland!

I was a passionate wildlife watcher back in the UK and was pretty good with the names of most species of plant, animal, or bird that I came across. Not so much insects, but I’m not an instect-y person. Anyhow, now I live in France there is sooo much that’s new as well as an abundance of certain species that are considered rarities in the UK. There’s so much to see it’s keeping us all quite busy! So, what new and wonderful creatures have I discovered since moving here?

Well, the warm sun is certainly bringing the wildlife out on display. A few days ago we were treated to well over 20 large birds of prey riding thermals in the skies above our house. It was wonderful! I managed to get a couple of reasonable photos with my camera too.

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A tatty looking eagle or a vulture?

At first I thought (hoped) they might have been short-toed eagles (this website was my main reference, then I checked images on Google to see whether they looked similar) but the underwings, with the white “v” shape, are quite distinctive, so definitely not short-toed eagles. Then I thought maybe they were booted eagles but while writing this post I’ve been back and forward with Google images to try and figure it out and now I’m thinking it was one of the vulture species that frequent this area. Oh well. Given the numbers involved, it probably was “a kettle of vultures” – in which case I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled for booted eagle.

Lucky me though, because only a couple of days later I spotted a short-toed eagle (Circaetus gallicus) flying on the low hills in the Faby Vallee when I was on the way to drop DD at school! I’d say I haven’t been that excited about a wildlife sighting since I can’t remember but…

Did I mention the stag beetle (Lucanus cervus) that was flying above the hazelnut trees at dusk the other night?

Or the western whip snake (Hierophis viridiflavus) that was sunbathing on the wall, not far from where I saw the stag beetle the night before. (James saw this not me but I know it’s out there.)

Then there’s the midwife toad (Alytes), bip-bip-bipping away from under a rock somewhere near our front door. James and I were both wondering what it was that was beeping downstairs, thinking it was an electronic device malfunctioning somewhere in a box, but T, our landlady, told us it was a toad. A toad! I haven’t seen it yet but it’s out there calling every night now it’s warm.

Oh, and the giant peacock moth (Saturnia pyri). Let’s not forget this one!

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Saturnia pyri, just chillin’ on our terrace one morning – all 5-plus inches of it!

It’s called a grand paon de nuit in French (the large peacock of the night) and I’d say this particular creature was lucky that I had some washing to do first thing in the morning because I dread to think what the cats would have done with it had they spotted it first. Yes, one morning we awoke to find the largest moth I have ever seen, the largest moth in Europe no less, resting on the wall outside our house. While we were watching it the sun moved around and started to warm it up (it had been in the shade, until then) so, when it began to show signs of movement we gently persuaded it into a box then relocated it into the trees further down the lane. We’ve not seen it since but it’s out there, no doubt. Our neighbour, who’d seen one flying around a few nights before and had mentioned it to me, specifically because she was worried about our cats eating it, was equally excited when I interrupted her breakfast so she could come and take a look!

And finally, processionary caterpillars, which are the larval stage of the pine processionary moth (Thaumetopoeidae). These are my least favourite “new” discovery but that’s probably just because I haven’t yet seen what James describes as the millipede on steroids that is living somewhere near the terrace. When that pops into range it will take the creepy crawly top spot. Uck. The caterpillars are interesting though because despite looking relatively friendly – they’re furry, you know – and innocently marching through the forest nose to tail with one another, they can leave us humans with very irritated skin and can also be fatal to dogs. And they’re everywhere! We thought the webbed nests on the ends of branches of the evergreens around were spider nests but it seems they’re very densely populated caterpillar homes. The lifecycle of is pretty interesting too because they live in the tree until they’re ready to pupate, when they then leave the tree so they can burrow into the ground. The day I (literally) stumbled across them, there were well over 100 (I gave up counting at 100) marching in a long chain. DD spotted them first, which is how I ended up treading on a few. Luckily we didn’t touch them – I know enough about furry caterpillars to know better than that but it was helpful to be reminded and to be informed about their toxicity to dogs when James mentioned what we’d seen to a neighbour.

That’s it for all the exciting new stuff. Then there’s more every day stuff to here that I’d see every now and again where we were in the UK but here they’re common and everywhere. I can add to this list jays, redstarts, and orchids.