Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Case of the Missing Mud Whopper

While walking the streets of the Bronx’s Kingsbridge last Saturday—the summer solstice—something monumental jumped out at me. Something, that is, which isn’t around anymore. For many years now, I’ve noticed the precipitous decline of honeybees. When I was a boy, they were everywhere from front-stoop flowerpots to grassy stretches in the neighborhood's parks. Not so anymore, and the same could be said for bumblebees and other species of bees and wasps. There are obviously some around, but the buzz is not nearly as loud as in the not-too-distant past.

There was this peculiar-looking wasp—metallic blue in color—that always seemed to frequent a certain kind of weed in the bygone days of my youth. Their sharp blue color and fluid wing motion were very noticeable in the thickets of their favorite weeds. Being wasps and all, they simultaneously frightened and intrigued me. I didn't want to be set upon by one, let's put it that way. They were definitely more interesting insects than their meaner-looking brown cousins, who always seemed to be on the warpath. Individuals who even mildly disturbed their routine were fair game. My friends and I called the blue wasps “Mud Whoppers.” Something, though, told me that in our youthful exuberance, we had, quite possibly, transposed a scientific name—or that we had given the insect a unique moniker made completely out of whole cloth. Kids can be creative in that way. But now—courtesy of the Internet—I found the answer to this nagging riddle when I Googled “blue wasps” and stumbled upon images of the “Mud Whoppers” from my past. They were not, in fact, called “Mud Whoppers” but instead “Mud Daubers”—close enough. And that explains a lot.

There were bees and wasps aplenty in my youth. Everybody got stung at one time or another. Small, bright yellow-and-black striped bees were sure to be in the vicinity of discarded soda cans in trash receptacles. I don’t see their kind anymore, either. More buildings and fewer empty spaces have no doubt been contributing factors to their demise around here. But when the wide-open spaces in the area’s parks aren’t teeming with bees and insects like in the past, it certainly gives one pause.

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