Yellow Jackets work the day shift.
We were recently concerned to find a Yellow Jacket nest close to our front door. Normally we appreciate their ambitious work catching insect prey. If they had made their nest in an out of the way place, we would have left them alone. But, their nest location invited painful stings to us or visitors. They had to go.
Several species of Yellow Jackets live in the United States. Most make an underground nest that can have an opening on the soil surface upwards of an inch in diameter. It can be nearly anywhere, but the nest we found was beneath the lawn next to the walkway into the house.
Yellow Jacket queens overwinter and begin laying eggs in the spring. By late summer or fall, the few Yellow Jackets that were around in spring have multiplied into colonies that can have hundreds of individuals. The workers die in late fall.
Many people discover a Yellow Jacket nest when they walk by it or mow the lawn over the entrance. Angry insects instantly attack and often a hapless person is stung many times in a second or two. Stings really hurt. It’s happened to us more than once, so now we don’t tolerate a nest near the house.
We only kill a Yellow Jacket colony if it’s located where we, or visitors, might be stung. Here’s how we do it:
Yellow Jackets work the day shift. Although they sometimes are out flying in the early evening by dark the entire colony is home underground in the nest. The nest entrance is easily spotted during the day by dozens of Jackets coming and going. We note its location. After dark we approach with a flashlight, spray can of insect killer, and a piece of cardboard, a board, or an old hunk of carpet. The flashlight helps find the hole. We spray a generous amount of poison down the hole, cover it with the carpet, board, or cardboard and weight it down with a rock. The covering keeps the spray in the nest.
The next morning, we watch for Yellow Jacket activity. Usually, there is none, telling us we destroyed the colony. We remove the covering, but if we see some Yellow Jackets we respray at night and cover the nest again. That usually solves the problem.
Yellow Jackets often create a nest in the ground under bark.
As Marion was looking out the window recently she saw Rich abandon the lawn mower and race across the yard swatting and jumping as he ran. What was going on?
He’d pushed the mower up close to wood mulch around a tree and disturbed a Yellow Jacket nest. They boiled out of their underground home and attacked. Rich was stung five times as they chased him across the yard.
Many people have unpleasant encounters with this aggressive insect every year, especially in late summer. Their stings are painful and it’s a rare and fortunate person who only gets stung once. Multiple stings are normal. First, get away from the nest and alert everyone else around about the nest. Then, put ice on the stings to keep swelling down. Watch for and treat more serious allergic reactions.
The life history of Yellow Jackets is interesting. Many species live in the United States. Some, like the German yellow jacket, are exotic while others are native. Most have the familiar yellow and black pattern, although a few species may be black and white. Only the queen overwinters, and in spring she makes a nest that’s usually underground but can be found in other locations. She’s an egg laying machine. By late summer the colony can have thousands of members.
This insect is generally beneficial. Adults eat a wide array of fruits, meat, sweets and insects but normally they feed their larvae insect parts. Although they consume pesky insects, they often forage in trash cans and they love picnics. A definite problem because there is nothing beneficial about being stung many times. The experience can be traumatic to a child.
Yellow jackets don’t go out of their way to sting, but they do readily attack anything they believe threatens their home. Generally they won’t attack a person walking quietly in the area. But anyone who disturbs the leaves or sticks near their entry hole will be chased by dozens of yellow jackets as they boil out of their nest and attack.
If the nest is in a place with much human traffic, it is prudent to destroy it. That requires pinpointing the entry. To find it, carefully approach the area where the nest is suspected. Look for a small hole, often under a piece of wood, with insects coming and going. Avoid making noise or disturbing leaves, mulch, or wood. A pair of close focusing binoculars can aid in the search. Once the entry is located follow these steps:
- Wait until after dark when all insects are down in the nest.
- Approach the entry hole with a flashlight, a spray can of wasp killer, and a piece of carpet.
- Spray the poison down the hole and cover it with the carpet to keep fumes and insects inside.
Remember to only destroy a nest if the insects pose a stinging threat. Otherwise leave it alone for these beneficial, although cranky insects to live.
A side note is that several colleges and universities like Georgia Tech and Black Hills State University sport the Yellow Jackets as their mascot. Appropriate Buzz and Sting!