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Yellow jackets are considered beneficial in that other insects are a major part of their diet

By Al Cooke
Posted Wednesday, July 20, 2011

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Pittsboro, NC - A forestry professional recently emailed to report and inquire if I was getting more reports of unusual numbers of yellow jacket nests. I hadn't, but that was the only the first report. There have been others now. And this past weekend I too followed a mower across a nest. It's not the first time that has happened nor even the worst. But three stings were enough to send me inside to slap on cold packs for a while. Now I've marked the spot and finished mowing.

As long as I know where it is, I can avoid it. A few years ago we actually had one in the shed just a few feet from where the mower lives. Weekly, I could routinely walk 2-3 feet in front of the entry/exit (paying attention to the flight pattern and traffic), get the mower, and back out safely. Never got stung. But I always paid respectful attention.

While some may find my behavior strange, even fool hardy, yellow jackets (like wasps and hornets) are considered beneficial in that other insects are a major part of their diet. They help manage the insects in our gardens. And the nest is only there for a few months. They don't return to nest in the same place again next year. Nests are abandoned by wintertime. The future queens seek shelter alone, in protected places under tree bark, in old stumps, or sometimes attics. They will seek out new locations for next year's nests. Nests are often found in lawns, particularly in exposed areas of thin turf, as well as at the base of trees or shrubs.

Nests can also be in inconvenient locations, and some individuals are at major risk if they are stung. If you can tolerate them, fine. If you can't, then regardless of your attitudes about insecticides, those products are a better choice than the gasoline that otherwise intelligent people inexplicably reach for. Insecticides are designed to kill insects and then break down usually in days to weeks with little residual effect. While gasoline will kill many living things, it is not intended as an insecticide and does not rapidly break down in the environment. I'm always confused by people who may decry a commercial oil spill but pour gasoline on their soil.

If you choose to eliminate the nest, purchase a can of wasp and hornet spray. (This strategy will work for most stinging insects when you know the location of the nest opening.) Select a product that will throw up to 10 feet or further. Wait till almost dark when most of the girls are back in the nest. They're almost all girls. Then spray the can into the opening. Most of them will be killed on contact. But be cautious and watch for the one that escapes. Wear long sleeves, long pants, hat, gloves, etc. Do not perform this activity from a ladder. Do not use a light. Once you're done, you can leave. Come back tomorrow to evaluate your results and determine if further treatment is necessary. And those allergic to stings (you know who you are) should not participate in this activity.

As the summer wanes, the numbers of yellow jackets will increase. They tend to develop a taste for sugar. Yellow jackets, in particular, may be late season pests around picnics, trash cans, and humming bird feeders as they scavenge. The only way to control this situation is to locate and destroy the nest, which is rarely practical. Keep all outdoor food and drinks covered, except while actually eating. And pay attention. It can be very unpleasant to sip from a can where a yellow jacket is already sipping. Bee guards or a coating of petroleum based chest rub can be used on hummingbird feeders where the insects land. Trash cans should be kept covered. Defensive behavior occurs in response to nest defense. If the nest is not in the immediate vicinity the likelihood of stings is greatly reduced unless you start to mess with them.

And be careful.

For more information on yellow jackets and hornets, go here
And for suggestions on ways to reduce the likelihood of stings, go here

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Yellow jackets are considered beneficial in that other insects are a major part of their diet

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