Sunday, November 22, 2009

The great wasp battle of Henderson, 1954

From the Auckland Star, 13 January 1954.

An estimated 10,000 wasps were brought down in a sharp engagement at Henderson yesterday afternoon. Two of our apiary instructors were damaged.

Equipped with a car-load of wasp-killing instruments, the instructors carried out the raid on a wasp colony's 5ft x 6ft nest on the Henderson farm of Mr. R. J. Hardie.

Fifteen people -- the Hardies, neighbours and friends -- watched as the instructors, Mr. E. Smellie and Mr. D. Roberts, prepared for action.

The instructors took off their coats, donned overalls and cloth arm protectors, pulled their socks up over their trouser cuffs, put on gauze head guards and rubber gloves. Then they ran up an extension ladder to the big nest hanging over 10ft high in a tawa tree. Mr Smellie mounted the ladder with a smoke bomb, placed it in the nest and got his first stings.

The smoke filled the nest and formed a film outside it to contain the wasps.

Next the wasps were treated to a tin of cyanide gas.

Some wasps fought their way out of the smoke-choked nest and attacked the instructors, swarmed round their heads, stinging through their clothing.

Spectators moved back as the wasps went on the warpath. They turned up the collars of their coats, covered their faces and hid behind trees.

Then the nest caught fire. The smoke bomb had ignited the papery walls of the nest -- though it wasn't supposed to. Wasps fell dead in a shower. After a few minutes the men slashed the nest with a spade and its burning pieces fell to the ground.

The wasps kept on fighting. They stung the instructors dozens of times, followed them wherever they went. They stung them through their shirts, even through their rubber gloves. Mr. Smellie's hand ballooned with the effect of the stinging.

Mr. Roberts, nonchalantly saying, "That one got me," was picking clinging wasps off his hands. The wasps were walking up his arms, their stingers working like sewing machines.

When it was all over -- when all that was left of the nest was burning wreckage at the bottom of the tree -- a swarm of wasps which had been out on patrol returned to find their home gone. That's when your photographer and reporter left.


  1. Holy heck in a hand basket!
    Coincidentally I just passed a (smallish) swarm of bees going nuts over a Eucalyptus tree beside the train line this morning so I can easily imagine the noise of the wasps' angry buzzing and their furious flitting about.
    Nature's amazing in the way it creates creatures like this who work in teams to protect their hive.