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Tom Tangney

Entomologist tests his tenacity against a Volkswagen-sized wasp nest

FILE - In this July 27, 2013, file photo, North Korean soldiers turn and look towards their leader Kim Jong Un from a military parade vehicle as they carry packs marked with the nuclear symbol during a ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests, the first in 2006. All were conducted in the depths of Mount Mantap, a nondescript granite peak in the remote and heavily forested Hamgyong mountain range about 80 kilometers (50 miles) as the crow flies from Chongjin, the nearest big city. Since North Korea is the only country in the world that still conducts nuclear weapons tests, its Punggye-ri site on _ or mostly under - Mount Mantap is also the world’s only active nuclear testing site. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

“It was the size of a small Volkswagen,” says entomologist Jonathan Simkins.

Simkins is talking about this huge wasp nest discovered on some hunting grounds in central Florida. The biggest nest he’d ever seen in over 20 years in the field, was 6 and-a-half feet high and 8 feet wide.

“It was gigantic. It was amazing in the numbers, and how quickly it got aggravated. There was so much alarm pheromone in the air, you eyes would water and your nose was burning – you were breathing it,” says Simkins. “It was amazing how this nest was able to defend itself so quickly.”

That alarm pheromone came from about a million, that’s right a million, wasps who lived in that Jurassic-like nest. Simkins says he normally deals with nests of 1,000 to 5,000 wasps. (And this was a million.) So how did this one get so big and populous?

“The species we deal with down here in Florida, the southern yellow jacket, basically, they develop multiple queens. So the first year there’s one queen, the second, third and fourth, like this nest, there were thousands of queens. So when you have that many females laying eggs, that’s how we get into these large nests that grow exponentially over the years.”

It was up to Simkins to get rid of the nest – which he eventually did – but when he started there was hell to pay.

“There were a couple of times I had to get out of the situation because they were starting to get in my veil and I felt endangered, and I started to panic,” he says. “So I got out as quickly as possible.”

How he subdued the wasps is a company secret but he says the stings he endured didn’t get in the way of his appreciation for the majesty of this nest.

“This nest was beautiful. Nothing touched it. Nothing tried to tear it apart. Every aspect of this nest was perfect,” says Simkins.

He admits to being stung over 10,000 times in his career. So with that many stings to his credit, does he get so he doesn’t even notice? How many times would he have to get stung before it really started hurting?

“Just one sting still hurts.”

Ouch. 10,000 times.

About the Author

Tom Tangney

Tom Tangney is the co-host of The Tom and Curley Show on KIRO Radio and resident enthusiast of...everything. As the film and media critic on the Morning News on KIRO Radio, he espouses his love for books, movies, TV, art, pop culture, politics, sports, and Husky football.

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