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Maribondos come in a a variety of sizes and colours but they all share the basic same elongated hour-glass body shape and they all have a nasty sting, though some are worse than others. There flight is delicate, apparently hanging in the air, effortless, while they check things out. Their fluttering wings and long fine legs put me in mind of fairies, as fairies in dark tales often are, beautiful but very dangerous and best avoided.

A large wasp nest hidden in a lime tree

A large wasp nest hidden in a lime tree

maribondos like to make their homes in trees particularly, but also in the roof beams of houses, in fact anywhere out of reach or hidden, or both. Their homes look like they are made with papier-mâché, usually a dull grey, their honeycomb structure starts as a single cell, hanging from a delicate but firm paper anchor. The maribondos build up the house until it reaches, well some of them get to be football size, though usually they are more the size of a tennis ball and funnily enough the smallest maribondos make the bigger houses. These maribondos are tiny black wisps, that at only 2cm or so long, and with the most nipped in waist appear almost to be a head and tail with nothing in the middle. These tiny dots of pain, (as I now think of them, having suffered their displeasure) are so small that it’s easy to mistake their darting flight for a trick of the light, until that is, one of them lets you know in no uncertain terms that this trick of the light has a painful sting in its tail.
Last year I was picking the fruit on our guava tree, I was reaching up to pluck a delicious looking fruit, when zap, zap, zap on my side and intense pain that made me cry out, the fruit falling from my grasp as I ran backwards out of the enveloping branches of the tree. Once out of the muddle of branches, I caught sight of a large maribondo , in shades of brown, I swear it was looking for me. Without daring to enter the shade of the tree, I tried to locate its house, but the pain in my side was incredible, like burning needles and a large red welt was forming around my side, nearly as wide as my hand span. I gave myself some homoeopathic remedies and an ice pack, before calling on my father in law to help locating the house (Neu was out fishing). As is my mother in law’s way, she laughed when I said I had been stung, but she was shocked when she saw how I had reacted to the stings. My father in law came and had a good search, but nothing so we gave up, assuming I must have disturbed a lone wasp. The next day my youngest son was going over to visit his grandparents, the path takes him under the tree, I warned him to watch out for wasps, but he came and went several times that day without any problem. Suddenly he was screaming and running back to me waving his hands in front of his face, my poor little mite had been stung on his face several times, and was swelling up before me. Thankfully I had discovered that vinegar works well to take the pain out of the sting, and he was very brave about the whole thing. Hearing his Grandson screaming, my father in law came round on a search again, this time he was determined to find the offenders, and spent some time poking about in the branches until he did indeed find it. Having dealt with it, by knocking the house out of the tree with a stick, he told me that it was the most vicious type of maribondo , the one that definitely gives the worst sting, and didn’t we know it.

A piece of the paper mache type material the wasps construct their homes from

A piece of the papier-mâché type material the wasps construct their homes from

A few days ago, I was pruning some low branches out of a tree, always keeping one eye out for maribondos of course. I thought I saw one, so stepped back and waited a bit, nothing, safe to go back under the branches again. Then there she was coming at me a whirl of wings and legs, I swear I could hear her malevolence as she spiralled in to sting me three times on my face before I, like a lumbering elephant, could back out of her way. Grabbing the ice out of the freezer, the vinegar out of the fridge (we have to keep it in there or the ants get in it) and the homoeopathic remedies from the drawer, I dosed my self up as I could feel my cheek beginning to swell up, my eye not wanting to move properly and oh the pain. Four days later, thankfully the pain and swelling has gone, but my fear of malevolent fairies has increased.

©Claire Pattison Valente 2009