Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Vespidious Varmints

Appalachian Word of the Day: Mankiller

They call them "Mankillers" here in the Appalachians. The sting is said to be nearly deadly and more painful than death and they can kill cattle it is said. They fly at night and are attracted to lights. It's the European or Giant Hornet...only surpassed by their somewhat larger cousin the Asian Giant hornet.

Often, you will see their two foot or larger long nests displayed in homes or stores throughout the Appalachian area as a piece of natural art. I have an old photo of my grandmother seated in front of such a nest. I've always wanted to find one myself.

One bit of folklore about the hornets is that if their nests are built low to the ground, a hard winter follows. It's one of my favorite Appalachian weather myths, along with the number of thunder storms in May equaling the number of snows coming in the next winter.

You can follow a mankiller back to her nest by following her--they fly in straight lines--but the closer you get to the nest, the more likely it is you will suffer one of their ferocious stings. They are pretty docile and slow-flying away from the nest. But an inch and a half wasp, is not a creature you want to aggravate. They look so much bigger, too, when they are flying.

The most annoying thing about them is the night flying business. While Scott was here, he kept leaving the door open at night and he managed to let five in the house. He's really tall, Friend Scott is, so I let him kill them while I cowered in the hallway yipping little screams every time the thing zoomed by. When you kill that many giant stinging insects, you start feeling like your skin is a bit crawly. So we both sat there twitching and slapping ourselves.


  1. Karen Smithey said...
    I'd never heard of them before--I think I'd be cowering right beside you!
    Editor @ the "Dew" said...
    Wouldn't the Dew readers love to know more about these???

    No... that's not a big fat hint at all.

    Elizabeth said...
    Are these the same as Cicada Killers? Those puppies are huge! One made a nest in my parents' backyard (under a flat stone), but was very polite and didn't offer to sting anyone. We watched it pull a cicada into its nest. Very impressive!

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