The wasp killer

Ready to get to work

There’s plenty of killing going on at Pukemokemoke Reserve, and the more the better, according to Keith Holborow.

For the last six weeks, the retired engineer/science teacher has driven from Hamilton to hunt out and destroy wasp nests. In this case, the target is the German wasp, Vespula germanica.

“The New Zealand bush is full of wasps, they’re increasing in numbers and that’s a fact of life. And sadly, they seem to like building nests near to the tracks.”

Reports of visitors being stung at the Reserve have also increased, because often people walk through the wasps’ flight path and Keith says it’s far worse this year.

“There are more wasps around than we’ve ever had out here; it’s been good weather for them to build nests, and there is more food about.”

2014 is a mast year, and trees such as totara and kahikatea are producing particularly large amounts of fruit, which leads to an increase in insects, and food for wasps.

“So everything is in their favour and they’ll probably persist until the end of April, May when things start getting colder.”

Until then, Keith is on a mission to kill as many of them as possible and destroys about one nest a week.
In addition, every Wednesday he travels to the Hunua ranges, south-east of Auckland, and offers his time on pest control. “We have trouble with wasps there, because they like to build nests along our bait stations as well. So we need to be savvy about wasps.”

This includes listening and looking for them, being on the alert and having strategies.

The number one rule, he says, is to stay out of their flight path if you possibly can.

“Everybody has their pet theory about what to do if wasps get angry, some people recommend running like crazy, but you should run with dignity, not slapping yourself. Every person I’ve ever seen stung by a wasp has swatted at them. While it’s an understandable reaction, it’s the worst thing to do. Move away steadily.”

Another option is to freeze. “This seems to work well too, as long as you have the self-control to watch a wasp hovering past your eyes, checking you out. You hope they won’t do anything more about it, and almost for sure they won’t.”

He had received differing advice from the experts – “The Auckland Park rangers say run, run like hell, but the Auckland Park wasp exterminator says freeze and stay out of the flight line. When they lose interest, walk away quietly. And that always seems to work for me.”

He has never been stung at Pukemokemoke and only once while in the Hunuas. “The reason I got stung that day was we were lowering the bait stations on trees and, concentrating on the job, I didn’t realise I’d put myself in their flight path. It hasn’t happened since because I always look and listen.”

To destroy the nests at the Reserve he uses a long stick with a spoon or container on one end. This is then filled with carbaryl powder and very carefully tipped into a wasp nest.

Opening the packet of carbaryl…

But first – find your nest. “Some people say to put cat food on the ground and sprinkle flour on the wasp when it feeds – then follow the white wasp. This wouldn’t really work for me, so I just walk quietly around, and look and listen for them. They nest in the ground, and you can see them coming and going. Often there will be little white chips outside it, which is another give away. If the hole has spider webs or leaves in it, look elsewhere because it’s not active. Or look behind you – that happened to me once.”

Sneaking up on a nest...
Sneaking up on a nest…

Visitors to the Reserve are urged to contact Friends of Pukemokemoke if they are stung, or find a nest.

“And please give us the best directions they possibly can, sometimes the directions are quite cryptic. It makes my job easier if directions are clear as possible because I will be coming out to find it.”
Finally, he says to carry antihistamine when going into the bush. “You shouldn’t be in there without some.

The best advice,” he adds, “don’t get stung.”

And the job is done.
And the job is done.
  • To report wasp nests at Pukemokemoke, phone 855 8236, 856 5242 or 853 7553.
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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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