Taking a break yesterday from writing for our new Sunday School curriculum, I stepped outside to find an ichneumon wasp on the small cement slab outside the back door of our new garage. It took a few moments to realize what she was. Female ichneumon wasps look like oversized wasps with slender, cinnamon-brown bodies accented with yellow; black-framed yellow bands stripe her abdomen which ends in a four inch long, black, whip-thin tail with which she lays eggs in the larvae of various kinds of insects – including those of horntail wasps. After mating and after locating a tree or a stump or a rotting log in which the larvae of horntail wasps live, it can take her up to 40 minutes to locate where a horntail larva is in the wood, drill through the wood into its burrow or even into the larva’s body, and lay an egg.
She only has 27 days to do this. Then she dies. In a few weeks, the ichneumon wasp eggs hatch in the horntail larvae and eat the horntail larvae. When the ichneumon wasp larvae are done eating, they enter the pupa stage of their life, during which they are transformed from a chubby grub into a slender, winged wasp. Early the next summer, the ichneumon wasps emerge from trees ready to start their species’ life cycle over again.
Sometimes the ichneumon wasp larvae eat larvae who are harming trees. So as scary as they appear, ichneumon wasps can have a beneficial effect on the natural world.
The wasp I saw may have just unfurled herself from her cramped cocoon. She was out on that cement slab for hours before she flew away to find a mate and a place to lay her eggs. I would have loved to have tried to follow her. How will she find a tree infested with horntail wasp larvae? Could you find one?
Walking to my writing class two weeks ago, I noticed a maple tree that filled the front yard of a home nestled in the woods. The straw-colored maple seeds up in its gray branches seemed to outnumber the tree’s leaves; the foliage, as a result, appeared to be wilted and stunted and sparse, a pale green color. As I approached the tree, a strong breeze struck the tree and tossed thousands of seeds loose all at once; the breeze persisted, lifting them up into the air spinning; the whole sky in front of me became alive with spinning sun lit seeds glowing white against the woods. I stopped walking. Gazed in wonder. It was as if all the whirling, electric atoms in the atmosphere became visible as the tree released its evangelists of new life all at once into the world.
I thought of Pentecost. The wind. The fire. Those moments when trees release new life into the world, those moments trees release ichneumon wasps. There are moments like this in the lives of creatures and trees and people and the church.