Veganism and feminism are inseparable concepts in my life.

This blog is a theoretical interpretation of the lived experiences of a vegan feminist,
and an exploration of what it even means to be one in the first place.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

What to do When you Find a Wasp or Bee in your House: Compassion, Humane Treatment, Peace, and Not Killing Insects

Why Bees and Wasps

We need to read and write about bees and wasps to create a space that legitimizes them. Like many other animals (especially insects), bees and wasps are objectified by our culture in a way that allows us to treat them with absolute disrespect.

If we care about issues of oppression or any non-human animal at all, we need to radically rethink bees and wasps because oppressions are interconnected, uphold one another, and it is our moral obligation to protect victims. I certainly don't know if this is the best way to radically rethink bees and wasps, but it is hopefully one of many attempts.

This blog post will:

  • first expose the cultural lies and what they allow us to do
  • move on to highlighting what our culture does know about bees and wasps but is not common knowledge
  • an overview of bees and honey
  • how to deal with wasp and bee nests (or should we "deal" with them at all?)
  • the moral dilemma of interacting with wasps and bees as humans while trying to not undermine their rights
  • how to help bees and wasps if you want to and they get into your home.

Cultural Stories About Bees and Wasps

Bees are objectified because of their instrumental use to humans. Like all animals (except perhaps those that are legally recognized as protected species), bees can be treated as objects. Being treated like an object means your well being can be traded off for economic profit. We can gas bees, relocate them, kill them at the end of the season, squish them by mistake, and perform scientific experiments on them.

I almost had a panic attack when I read the article "Ecologies of Empire" by Jake Kosek. The article explains that bees have been used as disposable cartridges and living experiments to check for toxic residue in the environment. Seriously, just... WHAT? There is no such thing as a "humane" relationship with bees when we have legal rights and they are afforded no such protections.

"Wild" (really free, read the article "Liberate Your Language" for more on this) bees are denigrated to the position of wasps. Wasps are demonized rather than objectified. They are culturally viewed as inherently antagonistic to humans, aggressive, and senseless. They are robotic drones that are alive enough to see as our opponents posing a legitimate challenge (which gives us a reason to incite war against them), but not alive enough to merit our consideration when we destroy their homes, poison them with chemicals, or drown them in traps. They are the dehumanized never human.

Meeting Bees and Wasps on Their Own Terms

The following information on bees and wasps has been taken from Kosek's "Ecologies of Empire", a lecture by Gail Fraser at York University, and Wikipedia.

To begin, there are 20,000 known species of bees. Considering the vastness of the bee species, it's fascinating how small and narrow the information on bees is. Most information about bees is concerned with honey bees because of their use to humans. Few other bees produce honey. To put it bluntly, we know very little about bees and we don't really care. That doesn't mean we're not getting involved. Killer bees were actually created by humans in scientific experiments. Kerr crossed the aggressive and active tendencies of African honey bees with the successful pollen collecting capabilities of European honey bees. According to Kosek we've shortened their lifestyles, selected out guard bees, made them more docile, and in some cases completely removed their natural hibernation. We're also misinformed about how bees always act. Kosek writes about hives with multiple queens and hives that do not throw their drones out in the winter. There are many exceptions to our scientific rules.

There are over 100,000 species of wasps. Most are parasitic and eat other insects. Others eat pollen and fruit. Some live in social hive settings whereas others are solitary. Some wasps are aquatic. Only female wasps have stingers. There isn't really as much information about wasps compared to bees, and I'd chalk this up to our real lack of interest in them. There is however a great deal of speculation about if wasps feel pain... which I suggest you do not look up if you want to keep your faith in humanity for much longer. At the very least wasps have a neural response to harm. They don't want to be harmed so don't do it.

Should we be Eating Honey?

Any discussion of bees without mentioning honey is purposely excluding something. If we come at this from a vegan perspective, you're not vegan if you're consuming honey. You're not even eating a vegan diet. Veganism, at the very least, includes not consuming any animal products. Bees are animals and honey is an animal product. I don't care how healthy you think it is, how nice you think bees are treated, or whatever other excuse you want to use, it's not vegan. I used to be a "vegan" that ate honey and luckily a stranger on a bus had a very long rant at me and embarrassed me so much I never considered touching it again. Thanks Ian, this section of my post is inspired by you.

If you're not vegan and are still reading this, I'll use a vegan ethic to explain why you shouldn't be eating honey anyways (and then maybe you can try moving on to eliminating other not so animal friendly products haha).

Let's dispel some honey myths. Myth number one is that keeping bees in hives is taking care of them and saving them from colony collapse disorder. Bees have been around for at least 100 million years. They don't need our help, especially if our "help" is keeping them in specialized nests that let us take their honey. If we actually wanted to "help" them, we would create safe spaces that let them do their own bee things and not take anything from them. "Helping bees" is an advertising scheme that tries to cover up the real economic agenda. They're just there to make money.

As property bees are accidentally squished, gassed, and killed at the end of the season all the time. Not true at this one nice farm you visited? They are still property. No matter how long the chains are, they are still there.

Remember how many species of bees I said there were? Bee farming only helps one of them. In fact, it even gives an unfair advantage to one species of bee. Bee farming creates human supported invasive species. Where there was once a variety of natural bee species, we have introduced competitors that we have specifically designed to beat out the competition. If anything, bee farming is awful for ecological diversity and natural systems. We are controlling and helping out one species at the expense of all others.

How to Humanely or Peacefully Deal with Bee or Wasp Nests

The first step to peacefully dealing with bee or wasp nests is to anticipate the arrival of these insects. Plug all holes outdoors. Cover them with wood or shove plastic in them. Wasps specifically will make nests under patio decks, in pots, in patio chairs, in signposts, or in holes in the caulking of your house. If you could get a dime into the hole, a wasp will want to go in and at least have a look around. Being proactive is one of the best methods of discouraging wasps.

There are also some other proactive methods that have varying levels of success. You can buy fake wasp nests at stores like Home Depot or the dollar store. I find the paper ones are most effective (but they do need to be removed or covered when it rains if they are very flimsy). Buy multiples even though it says just one is good enough. Put one fake wasp nest in every area where another one isn't in sight. They are supposed to act as deterrents because wasps are territorial, but I've had wasps build a nest in my front porch when I put one in the backyard and seem to be unsuccessful when spaced too far apart. Encourage predators that would bother wasps by putting out nuts for squirrels or bird seed for birds. The worst case scenario is you have a bunch of lovely sparrows visiting your house.

If you already have wasps or bees, don't immediately decide you must destroy the nest. Observe them. What are they doing? If they're out of the way (like in a sign post) put a sign up that says wasps here, stay away. Control where they go by planting bee friendly flowers or leaving fruit out for your wasps. You won't be bringing in more wasps, because they are territorial, but you will be directing their flying routes. Maybe you're even causing them. The old street I lived on had dozens of pear trees. Every summer all the fruit would fall to the ground and we would get hundreds of wasps for months. Pick up fruit after it falls or be proactive and pick ripe fruit. If it is not edible please compost it.

I am going to bring it up again because it is so important, observe your insect neighbors. I'm sure it's extremely worrisome and unpleasant to have them so close to you, but are they actually a danger? I've had wasps actually live in the caulking between my front door and the porch ceiling for two years because I forgot to seal up the holes. In two years no one in my family received any wasp stings and we had three wasps come into the house accidentally. If any get inside turn off the lights, shine a flashlight on the wall, and catch your wasp that should be attracted to the light (I learned this trick when one refused to leave the lamp unless it was turned off). Our wasps had a very sophisticated system. They used one hole as an exit and one as an entrance. Neither hole went in the direction of my front door and even though they were 2 feet away from the door itself, they never tried to get in. In fact they were a joy to watch because every once in a while one would use the wrong hole and cause a wasp traffic jam.

Want to hear the best news about wasp nests? They don't come back. The colony will die out by next year and since the queen will only live long enough to lay eggs, you can seal up that area and even if you don't you won't get any of your same wasps back. The same goes for bees. I only got wasps in the same area twice (but not the same hole, it was three feet away) and that was because it was a great spot.

The Moral Dilemma of Insects in Your House

If you find a bee or wasp in your house move it outside. You can catch the insect with a net or if you're very brave a cup. If you don't have a net you can use a large tupperwear container. Wasps specifically are attracted to light and you can turn off the lights and use a flashlight to get them on the wall so they can be caught easily and safely.

What do you do if you can't move your bee or wasp outside because they'll die? Many insects come into your house in Fall or Winter to avoid the cold. Putting them outside means they will freeze to death. Here is the moral dilemma. If you keep your wasp or bee safe inside until Spring, they won't make it. You've likely found a drone that will have a naturally short lifespan. I have no idea what queens look like so I have no way to tell you if you have a queen, but if you do have one they will live until Spring. Even if the insect could live until Spring, you have a social insect without a hive. They may be adopted into another hive, but this is very very unlikely as far as I know. So, is it kinder to perform prolonged euthanasia by leaving the insect outside (similar to pulling the plug and waiting for the patient to die), to kill them quickly, or to keep them inside? I really can't tell you.

This is a debate you have to have with yourself and there is no "right" answer. Some would argue that you should follow the natural system and leave the insect outside... but you wouldn't do this if you had found a chipmunk or a cat. You would call the local humane society or wild life services. You might say a wasp or bee should die if they can't have the social society they evolved with, but we don't euthanize dogs and cats just because they won't be adopted (and many of us are outraged when kill shelters do just this because of over population). Leaving your wasp warm and alive means more suffering, but don't kid yourself into thinking leaving them outside will let them fall asleep peacefully. Freezing to death is not peaceful. It is painful. Make any decision you want, but make sure you are doing it because you believe in this decision and not just because "it's a wasp" or "it's a bee" and thus deserves less moral consideration than any other animal.

How to Take Care of Bees and Wasps if you Decide to

If you do decide to keep a wasp or bee in your house (because they cannot go outside! If they can go outside and they won't freeze to death, as in it's well above freezing, go put them outside immediately! Keeping a social animal in your home is horribly cruel and unnecessary) hopefully my experience can shed a little light on your situation.

I found a wasp or bee stuck behind my curtains in my den a few weeks ago. It was the night of the first snowfall. After much research online I still have no idea if this was a wasp or bee and it doesn't really matter (I'll explain why later). I will refer to my insect friend as a wee.

The wee could not even stand up. I put the wee in a tupperware container and every thirty seconds would have to prod the wee with a piece of paper to help them stand up again because the wee had fallen onto their back and was buzzing loudly. After about five minutes I only needed to upright the wee every minute. Then, about ten minutes after I was positive my wee would not live the night, the wee decided to fly around the room and land in my bonsai.

I put my wee in a glass vase (with a sieve over the top) and later moved my wee to an aquarium. My wee lived for five days before eventually dying. My wee was going to the bathroom and I believe my wee was eating. I still don't know if it was morally right to keep my wee or not, but here are some tips if you happen to be trying to help out a wee:

  • Don't name your wee. They will die. You can if you want to, but be prepared that they will die. You are only helping them live a little longer.
  • Put plants in with your wee. Mine liked hanging out on my bonsai. They also enjoy old branches to sit on.
  • Keep a damp paper towel at all times at the bottom of the cage. If you have any significant water, your wee may fall over, get wet, and be unable to get back up or out and will drown. It is very very easy for this to happen.
  • Put a teaspoon of agave in the cage or add sugar to the water (if you don't know what agave is, google it, buy it, and use it instead of honey in everything from now on. Maple syrup would probably work too). This works for bees and wasps, which is why it is unnecessary to identify the species. If you think you have a wasp, put in some fruit, but change it regularly because it will start to smell fast.
  • Make sure your cage is big enough for your wee to fly around in comfortably. Have lots of open space to stick your hand in and get it out quickly. Also, most importantly, make sure there are air holes that let air in but don't let the wee out!
  • Learn the rhythms of your wee friend. When mine was angry they would buzz around for a while and make a ruckus. I also knew when they were not going to fly around and I could open the whole cage, move things around, and have them completely ignore me. I had my wee for five days and even though I moved things around in the cage with my bare hands regularly, I was never at risk of being bitten or stung.

Further Reading on my Vegan Feminist Position on Insects

If you want information about gardening peacefully, check out this post I wrote here.

If you want information about dealing with aphids and other insects peacefully, check out this post I wrote here.

If you are having problems with ants and would like to get rid of them without killing them, check out this post I wrote on my old blog here.

If you are having problems with ladybugs in your house, check out this post I wrote here.