109. GOLDEN HORNETS.

"These golden hornets are most remarkable insects ~ They seem to be able to think, too, and count as well,".

Fred Blakeley at Illbilla camp, 09/08/1930. Dream Millions. Pgs 62 & 63.

Fred Blakeley, opal miner, bicycle bushman and hornet tamer. Blakeley was so impressed with these ferocious and apparently intelligent insects that he gave over a page of Dream Millions describing the nature and habits of golden hornets. Early August 1930 found Blakeley anxiously pacing the aerodrome at Illbilla camp, bitterly regretting a foolish decision in having to wait three days for Coote and the Golden Quest to return from Ai Ai Creek, "I just walked about listening and listening. A dozen times the big, black-striped golden hornets fooled me, for they make a drone very much like a plane in the distance".

Blakeley's golden hornets are about two and a half inches long with a wing span of three to four inches, elegant in appearance, the legs are over two inches long, and colourful having alternating black and gold rings around the body. "They have extra keen sight and hearing", are very agile and the sting is twice as potent as the bee. The nest is built of mud, a couple of inches or so in diameter, several paralysed insects, grubs or spiders are placed in the nest as food for the young hornet and when strong enough it breaks the seal at the end of the nest, ready to hunt and fend for itself. Allowing for a doubling in size, Blakeley has given a fair description of one of the Sceliphron species, usually known as mud wasps.

They fear nothing and terrify dogs yet are themselves good watchdogs, attacking any strangers in camp "In fixed mining camps I have often succeeded in taming them". Blakeley admits it was a delicate business requiring much patience and a steady nerve, he then gives the only known discourse on the esoteric art of hornet taming. First catch your bait, a fat grub will do, and impale it on a reed, then wait until a hornet settles nearby and slowly ease the bait towards the hornet. When the bait is sighted the hornet will circle it cautiously many times kicking dust and sand over the grub before carrying it off, Blakeley thought the hornets 'skirmishing' tactics entertaining. If the hornet takes the bait "the rest is only a matter of time", it soon returns to it's last kill and further training. During the days work all insects that looked like food for the hornet were saved in a tin for later amusement and experiment.

But Blakeley's hornets have attributes quite beyond the common mud wasp, "They seem to be able to think, too, and count as well". This was deduced by the simple experiment of removing one or more of the insects on offer and noting the hornets reactions at the change in numbers, "indicating that he (the hornet) could remember there was more than one". Thus was passed many a slow day in a mining camp, not unlike the situation at Illbilla, but Blakeley missed the chance to impress his mates with some hornet taming, Philip Taylor would have been agog. And he need not have feared this handsome inquisitive creature, it is not vicious or aggressive and generally doesn't 'attack' anything much larger than itself, it will of course sting repeatedly if trodden on or otherwise trapped and the dog that snaps at and catches a golden hornet only does it once. The insect is a solitary hunter of other insects and their larvae and spiders, which is in its favour, as food for it's carnivorous larvae, The adult insect feeds on nectar.

And only the golden hornet droned at Illbilla for those three days, the Golden Quest never arrived, it had crashed at Ai Ai Creek.

LASSETERIA

R.Ross. 1999-2006

Fred Blakeley, Dream Millions. Chapter 12.