Lost in the Soap Suds


One late summer day I stood at the kitchen sink washing dishes, not knowing that I was in for a surprise. I glanced at the lilac bush growing near the side of our old New England farmhouse. Soap suds bubbled up on my hands as I paused in the midst of my chore. Lilac blossoms were long gone. Amid the lilac branches was an enormous paper wasp nest. I craned my neck for a better look and shook my head in wonder. Clever architects had built a wasp city right under my nose, inhabited by thousands of insects. 

While I was busy wiping dinner plates, worker wasps chewed plant fibers gathered from nearby trees and carried them in their mouths, winging their way to the lilac bush. Wasp saliva is waterproof and contains sticky adhesive that makes the nest strong and water repellent. From a safe distance, I studied the nest. It had swirling layers of white, brown, and gray fibers. Skilled potters would be challenged to create such a work of art. 

Not only is the nest an intricate structure, it also abides by the laws of physics and geometry. Outer walls are built to allow the greatest amount of space in the smallest wrapper. Like honeybees, wasps manufacture cells in the shape of hexagons-the form best suited for saving space.

Inside the hive, a strange world exists, complete with paper scales, archways, and tunnels. Young grubs hang upside down in combs, waiting for nectar brought by adult wasps. Entomologist Jean Henri Fabre describes the feeding process.

With a thoughtful air the wasp bends her head toward an opening, and touches the grub with the tip of her antennae. The grub wakes and gapes at her, like a fledgling when the mother bird returns to the nest with food.

How sad to think that all these months I kept my head down scrubbing pots, not aware that a masterpiece of nature hung outside my kitchen window, truly fingerprints of the Divine Architect.

4 thoughts on “Lost in the Soap Suds

  1. Wasps are such nasty and mean bees; but their nests are amazing. I recently noticed that a have a HUGE one hanging from the eaves of my house. They are safe as long as they don’t attack me!

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