Little Michael Versus the Wasps

Michael Stone


Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.

From Moby Dick by Herman Melville


"Leiningen!" he shouted. "You're insane! They're not creatures you can fight--they're an elemental--an 'act of God!' Ten miles long, two miles wide--ants, nothing but ants! And every single one of them a fiend from hell; before you can spit three times they'll eat a full-grown buffalo to the bones. I tell you if you don't clear out at once there'll be nothing left of you but a skeleton picked as clean as your own plantation."

From "Leiningen Versus the Ants" by Carl Stephenson



When I was in elementary school, I ordered a paperback book called “The Most Dangerous Game and Other Stories.”

One of my favorite stories in it was called “Leiningin Versus the Ants” by Carl Stephenson. 

It detailed the efforts of a Brazilian plantation owner to defeat a ferocious swarm of soldier ants trying to eat him and his plantation.

I found it exhilarating fiction.

I hope you find the story I’m about to relate exhilarating as well.

But none of what follows is fiction. It is all true.

Well, more or less.

It begins in the mountains of North Carolina when I was but a wee lad of three.

A wasp, more particularly a yellow jacket, attacked me without provocation and stung me on the finger. The painful event represents my first memory and traumatized me, probably for life.

Not only was it painful, it made me sick and caused my hand to swell up.

My mom tells the story that I threw up on breakfast at a restaurant the next day.

Undeterred, my father finished his bacon and eggs.

After that, the yellow jacket and I were sworn enemies.

I got stung periodically because I either panicked at the sight of a wasp or simply could not resist annoying a nest of the beasties.

When I was about 10, I discovered a yellow jacket hole in our front yard just in front of the master bedroom window and about 15 feet from the front porch.

The wasps flew in and out of the hole all day doing whatever it is wasps do when they are not inflicting pain on innocent little boys and girls.

Although I regarded them as malignant creatures from hell, my revulsion could not prevent me from taunting them when I got a chance.

I would stand on the porch and throw things at the nest: rubber balls, rocks and the occasional can of Coca Cola.

If the Coke got into the nest, the angry yellow jackets would fly out of the hole looking for someone to sting.

I was too fast for them, though. I would be safely in the master bedroom laughing at their frustration from behind the window.

And then one day as I was watching the foul creatures swarm around in their fury, I felt a terrible pain in the flesh of my left arm.

One of the evil brood had crawled under the sleeve of my white T-shirt while I wasn’t looking. It had waited until I felt safe to deliver its venom.

This was premeditated treachery.

“This will not stand,” I howled in my fury. “I shall kill you all. Not one yellow jacket will survive my wrath. The gates of mercy shall be shut up, and wickedness and heady murder shall be released upon your home.”

OK, maybe I worded it differently at 10, but that’s what I meant to say.

And this was no idle threat.

I could have used conventional weapons, but that might have taken days or weeks to rid the neighborhood of this pestilence.

No, it was time to drop the big one.

I went around to the back of the house and got the gas can my dad used to fill up the lawnmower.

I waited until the approach of evening when the entrance was fairly clear of wasps and dumped a significant amount of gas into the hole.

Then I lit a match and dropped it in.

Flames leapt out of the arthropod abyss, a roaring jet of heat and destruction. 

But all too soon the fire died out, and the hole was devoid of flames.

I didn’t want to risk the survival of a single wasp and endure the diabolical revenge I knew would follow, so I walked back over to the hole and poured  more gasoline into it.

There was a deafening explosion as the sheet metal of the gas can split open. This was followed by streaks of flame that fanned out in all directions. Some raced up my arms, singing the tiny blonde hairs as it went.

The yard had been suddenly been transformed into a lake of fire. It was if I had unleashed some primordial beast from the bottomless pit of Tartarus. 

I grabbed the garden hose and attempted to douse the flames, but the water just seemed to make the fire spread.

Still, I continued to fight the fire as best I could.

When the fire finally died down, the yard was a swamp.

I ran and got my dad, fearing that he would put me up for adoption if I didn’t confess immediately.

My quick action and utterly contrite confession preempted a serious beating from my father, but he was not happy. I think my parents realized, as I do now, how lucky I was not to be barbecued alive.

But the wasps were dead, every last one of them.

Yes, the battle was ugly, but I had prevailed.

I came. I saw. I conquered.

Or as ol' Julius Caesar might have put it: Veni, vidi, vici.


And here's a little video of my sworn enemies at work. Also a clip from the film "The Naked Jungle" which is based on the short story “Leiningin Versus the Ants” written by Carl Stephenson. The story was first published in 1938, and the film was released in 1954. The story is much better, but the movie has its moments. 

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