Do you plan on having an August or September cookout this year? When you are looking over your guest list, be aware that you will likely have uninvited, non-sociable, and unwanted visitors show up unannounced: yellow jackets.
Yellow jackets are not very sociable or skilled conversationalists, but they are a social insect, meaning that they live in colonies numbering in the thousands. Unfortunately, they do not ask permission to establish their nests and often decide to build in areas that people tend to congregate. They may take up residence in a hole in the ground in the middle of your lawn, under the siding near the sliding glass door or in the landscape timber that borders your flower bed. Before I go any further in enlightening you about the wonders of the yellow jacket world, let me stress this:
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO TREAT A YELLOW JACKET NEST YOURSELF! YOU WILL GET STUNG!
Okay, now that we are past that awkward moment let me further explain. You can try to be a hero by using over-the-counter wasp spray that promises to kill these “buggers” on contact. Even if by some miracle you do not get stung, you will simply irritate the other 98% of the colony, making the job more volatile when the professional exterminator comes to save the day.
The Journey of the Yellow Jacket
It all starts in the spring, when overwintering queens — having spent the cold months hidden away in attics, stone walls, or even under tree bark — emerge and begin to build their nest. They seek out exposed wood surfaces and chew away wood fibers, which they mix with salivary secretions to form a paper-like nesting material. The nest structure begins with a small number of cells or chambers, and the queen places an egg in each cell. The larvae develops from hatched eggs, and are completely dependent on the queen for survival. The initial sterile female workers emerge, and start taking over the responsibility of building the nest and caring for the eggs, larvae, and pupae. As of this point the queen never leaves the nest, and the workers continue their laboring in protecting the nest, searching for food and water.
Food for the larvae is protein, usually in the form of insects, while the adult workers feed on liquids such as nectar, honeydew, and juices from the bodies of insects. However, they also enjoy the bountiful feast they can find at your family gathering — including sweet drinks, fruits, and that burger you just pulled off the grill. These provide a great source of protein for the maturing larvae in the colony, and will be a quick end to your gathering.
Handling Yellow Jackets
Yellow jackets are slow to sting unless they are provoked. If the entrance to the nest is disturbed then they become quite aggressive. Each individual worker can sting multiple times, causing much pain. Some people over time can become hypersensitive to their stings and then future stings can be life threatening. These hard working members of the wasp family are out and about doing what they were created to do, and there is no way to keep them from flying around and landing anywhere they choose surrounding your home.
Yellow jackets are very beneficial to the environment, as they feed on various arthropods that are considered pest species. Having them visit your property is not so much of a safety concern, but when they adopt your mailing address and your home sweet home becomes theirs, action is required. Your local pest control professional has the state certification and training, EPA-approved materials, correct application equipment and the experience to confidently treat the active nest on your property. Let your friendly neighborhood “bug guy” be the hero!