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A Hornet Nest and Economic Tipping Points



October 05, 2012 – Comments (3) | RELATED TICKERS: PCL

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Board: Pro: Plum Creek Timber

Author: 4stree

 I had a problem last week. I had a very active yellowjacket nest under a wood* pile under my back porch. Note that the traditional method of eradication was completely unacceptable under these circumstances. (See Rich's post about watching his burning maple tree.)

It may help to note that yellowjackets are aka ground hornets in some areas of the southeast. They have a nest like hornets but built under ground. Very cool if dug up after the bees are gone. The design makes wasp sprays ineffective by the way.

So be thinking about how I solved my problem while I work on the MOAP, because the solution and subsequent observations consolidated all my thoughts on the economy. I will leave you with one hint...Ross Perot.

*I had to mention wood because this is the PCL board. And I like to copy big red star posters in an effort to look cooler than 3 starlets.


I guess it is about time to report on my project with the yellowjacket nest. I'm glad I didn't post right away as there were more thoughts provoked as the project went on.

For some reason I was thinking about the loss of jobs in the forestry sector and was reminded of Ross Perot's statement about "the giant sucking sound" being the loss of jobs in the US that would occur after the NAFTA agreement. More on that later, but because my mind was spinning, the thought occurred to me that I could use a 5 hp shop vac to reduce my yellowjacket population without the need for fire. This seemed to be an ideal solution. Ideal because the vacuum would operate by increasing the wind speed around the entrance to the yellowjacket nest. Wind is something that Yellowjackets are used to. This is a good thing because the means to their demise would not be readily identifiable as a threat. I assumed that they would have no way of knowing that a super high wind speed could be generated by non natural forces. (Particularly an entity that was looking to accomplish some quatitative easing of the current yellowjacket population.) Of course, I was nervous about the placement of the vacuum tube, but that turned out to not be a problem. I basically took the long extension and the hose and placed the opening of the tube at the opening of the yellowjacket nest from a distance of about 6 feet and avoided being stung. I then turned on the shop vac and backed off, being concerned that the Yellowjackets might get stirred up and be attracted to the vibration. I was greatly relieved when upon firing up the artificial tornado, there was no notable increase in yellowjacket activity. They did not suspect any threats to their habitation or lifestyle.

I got a great deal of enjoyment watching incoming workers zip into the increased airspeed and suddenly go into reverse and disappear in a flash. As time went, on some of the incoming workers would hesitate outside of the airfield and fly around trying to figure out what was going on. Nevertheless in each case they would eventually lower the landing gear and head for the opening. The inevitable result was unexpected reverse thrusters and bippity, bippity, bippity, bap! Which just happens to be the sound that a yellowjacket makes bouncing up a flexible tube and slamming into the redirect spout at about 120 mph.

I think it is important to note here that as each worker learned the truth about the violent wind, he was no longer available for questioning. There was no way for other bees to get to the bottom of the problem. They could only discuss the weather and speculate about the disappearance of other bees they knew. I imagine the conversation going like this:

YJ #1- Sure is windy weather we’re having.
YJ #1- Yes it is. Nevertheless I still must go out and collect pollen.
YJ #3- Did you hear about Buzz? He didn't come in on time this afternoon.
YJ #2- Yes well you know Buzz, he tends to get lost from time to time.
YJ #1- Well what about Scooter? He hasn't been back since this morning.
YJ #2- Scooter tends to wander a lot. He's not very focused.
YJ #3- Well okay lunch break is over see you around 3:00. bippity, bippity, bippity, bap!

Now I know you're thinking “what about all those yellowjackets in the shop vac.” Well I was thinking about that too. I decided that the safest course of action would be to keep the vacuum running and disconnect the hose and then squirt some starting fluid into the vac immediately after turning off the power. The answer is yes, this was very effective. Many of the yellowjackets had died on their trip up the tube. But there were a few left twitching in the bottom so I was glad I didn't just take the top off. At the end of one hour, I had about a grapefruit size wad of dead bees in the vacuum and very few workers around the nest. Surely that was the bulk of the bees; and the resulting loss of workers would have a devastating effect on the population of the nest.

At this point, I felt I had solved my problem and that there was a great lesson to be learned about the economy. More about that in the next post. 


Okay back to the story before it becomes a biology lesson.

There were several things about my experiment which I thought might translate well into my interpretation of what I saw in the economy. I will list them in no particular order:

1. Our society is very accustomed to debt just like wasps are accustomed to wind. The vacuum was a different source of wind just like QE is a different source of debt. We have gone from personal debt to corporate/social debt but it is still debt. We don’t get stirred up because it’s not strange to us. Sometimes we allow a local “renderer of lard” to say the rules have changed this time and we say… OK.
2. The office wasps could not know the peril of the field wasps nor did they care if any particular individual met its demise. They were, after all, comfortable and their circumstances had not changed. They may even be living it up with all the excess supply and reduced number of consumers.
3. I added some personification to indicate that individual colossal failures are often blamed on personal character flaws when in fact they may be the result of circumstances beyond individual (or in this case corporate) control. We like to think we are safe as long as we are perfect or at least better than the other guy.
4. I thought that the removal of 50% of the workers would result in a collapse or abandonment of the nest. How would the rest survive if nourishment wasn't coming in as fast as it was consumed? Certainly they wouldn’t just outsource to disadvantaged workers from other nests.
5. The only yellowjacket that I saw leave the nest and make it past the vacuum was the one that ignored SOPIEWC (Standard Operating Procedure for Ingress and Egress of the Woodpile Colony) and crawled out on the very stable cinderblock and flew off from the backside. All the others tried to crawl out the socially acceptable way only to be stripped from the loose soil and sucked to oblivion. Later on, some of the Yellowjackets landed early and tried to crawl into the opening. Others followed the same scent trail, yet none of them made it past the vortex.

That was day one day. Day two through five brought about a serous reconsideration because, although the flight of wasps in and out was less like the Berlin Airlift, it still wasn't very different from Hartsfield International (or JFK for the Yankees among us.)

I underestimated the resilience of a yellowjacket nest which has been growing for a whole season. Undoubtedly there were more resources available in the nest in terms of food and individuals than I first thought. Try 3,000 individuals on for size. Actually - not recommended. There were no doubt many more afield than would come and go in a single hour. New individuals may be hatching out at a high rate right now. Heck, they probably just accelerated the promotion schedule. Anyway, the buffer ability of the nest was greater than I expected. Individuals perished by the hundreds, yet the civilization lived on.

The truth is, I am now up to QE 5 and wasps are still flying in and out as if nothing has changed. QE 2 siphoned off at least as many as QE 1. At one point I got up the nerve to wack on the cinder block with a loooooong wooden pole to try to speed things up. If more came out, they didn’t make it! Now I have adjusted my QEs to ½ hour and concentrated them in the critical morning and evening hours. At this point, it’s a compulsion! That and I still can’t do it the old fashioned way.

The other reason I keep on is, I believe there is a tipping point, it’s just further out than I expected. So now the PCL part of this…yesterday I got my second call from a buyer saying that the mills are getting desperate and prices are trending up hard. The problem is, there are too few harvest crews and it has gone over the tipping point. We are now being offered blended rates that are really worth looking at. Don’t know how high they will go, or how long they will last, but it has happened.

What other tipping points are out there that have been forgotten because they have been delayed? Can we really expect the economy to expand while the mode disposable income contracts? Are we being fooled by mean and median calculations? Can we profit as a service society? Is it ok to abandon production and value added? Have we actually done that, or is there more of a buffer there than I see.

Well, thank you to any reader who has hung in this far. I appreciate the ability to air this out. Really, just wondering if anyone else has similar concerns.


3 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On October 07, 2012 at 8:36 AM, PInverarity (< 20) wrote:

It turns out mint oil is a powerful neurotoxin for wasps and hornets.  I used some when my wife sent me to the hardware store looking for something organic with which to go at the wasps nesting in our dryer vent.  It worked breathtakingly well.  The wasps made it about 6" outside the vent before falling, twitching, to the ground.  Maybe buy a good whack of mint oil, dissolve it in rubbing alcohol (not sure water would do it), get a hose and a funnel....  Look it up; see what you think.


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#2) On October 08, 2012 at 9:59 AM, maniladad (< 20) wrote:

After thinking about your blog for a couple of days I was going to offer a suggestion about the yellow jackets but it looks like VitaBevis got here first and with a better suggestion. I was just going to suggest that you place a garden hose at the opening, wait until dark when all the wasps are in and turn on the hose at a low flow, one sufficient to keep the opening flooded without excessive runoff. Leave it on for a few days until the entire nest is saturated and the wasps drowned. Would work fastest in sandy soil. Not sure it would work with thick clay but could be worth a try. Doesn't offer the satisfaction of sucking the little buggers into the vacuum, I'm afraid.

Not sure whether there are any broader economic parallels to these solutions except that perhaps we sometimes get carried away with complicated approaches when there are simpler, possibly more effective options available.  

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#3) On October 09, 2012 at 7:34 PM, Dan2022 (< 20) wrote:

Great post, 4stree!  It is difficult to reduce the effectiveness of a productive and busy society, but with a long-term plan, patience, and persistence, they society will eventually have too few producing members to survive.  Someone will just keep telling them that this is the "new normal," and they'll keep doing what they're doing until you totally render them unable to produce enough to keep themselves alive.

 As much as I hate to admit it, Bulldogs have been known to render Yellowjackets helpless in short order. 

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