Yellowjackets, wasps and bees - know what you are dealing with
These are all stinging insects. And for some sensitive people their stings can cause major health problems but for most people the stings are not usually dangerous – just painful.
They will all be aggressive if you disturb their nests but Yellowjackets can be aggressive all the time – a real jerk!
Know your enemy
Yellowjackets is the common name for wasps. But many people often describe all types of flying, stinging insects such as honey bees, bumble bees, wasps and hornets as “yellowjackets”.
Generally it is only the types of wasps that are considered pests. These include eastern, western, southern, German and common yellowjackets. All of these can be aggressive and are equipped with a sharp stinger and they are able to sting multiple times. Bees on the other hand typically die after they sting so they are only able sting once and therefore do so only as a last resort.
All yellowjackets play a positive role by pollinating plants and eating other garden and agricultural pests such as caterpillars. So where possible it is best to leave them to go about their business.
In most cases only the queen will survive the winter and in the spring she will look to start a new nest. They don’t tend to reuse nests so if you can leave the nest alone it will be empty and can be removed safely next year.
In the warmer southern states the southern wasp does overwinter and their colonies can grow to a very large size over a number of years.
Problems they cause
Yellowjackets can become dangerous when they build their nests close to or in your home. Each nest can contain thousands of insects and they will aggressively defend their nest if it is disturbed.
You don’t have to prod the nest to disturb them either. Sometimes they will attack if you walking close by and sometimes even the vibration of mower many feet away will set them off.
If they do feel threatened they will attack in numbers and can pursue the disturber for hundreds of yards. When they sting they can leave a scent that marks you as a threat to encourage others to also attack.
For most people a solitary sting is painful and is likely to leave a mark and possibly localized swelling. But some people can have an allergic reaction to the venom which can be life threatening.
Seek immediate medical help if you are stung more than 10 times or are stung in the mouth or throat. Similarly get urgent medical attention if you exhibit an allergic reaction after a sting such as difficulty breathing, wheezing, swelling of the throat, hives or tightness in the chest.
What to look for
Some types of yellow jackets build their nests underground while others like to build theirs in trees, attics and outbuildings. The nests are made up of chewed wood fiber and if out in the open can look like they are made of paper.
The most obvious sign of a nest is seeing a regular stream of yellowjackets entering and leaving a hole. The hole can be on the ground or in the wall or eaves of your home or outbuilding.
During the spring and early summer yellow jackets feed mainly on other insects so they tend not to interfere too much with your enjoyment of your yard. But during the late summer and fall they switch their diet to be more sugar based which they get from ripening fruit and flower nectar.
They can also get the sugar they crave from cans of soda which obviously brings them into more contact with humans. It is at this time of year that you will also see swarms of yellowjackets scavenging around trash cans.
How to deal with yellowjackets
The first thing to say is that if you can just leave them alone to go about their business. If one comes near you just calmly and gently brush it away and then walk away. Don’t swat at it as it is likely to feel threatened and sting you.
As with all pests it is best to discourage rather than treat. So keep all garbage cans and pet food covered and don’t keep sugary sodas or sweet foods out in the open. Also be very careful with cans of soda as yellow jackets will enter into the cans and will sting you if you then drink from the can.
If you do have a nest that is in a place where it is likely to be disturbed then it is best to remove it.
If you do decide to have a go at removing it yourself do it during the evening when it is cooler and most of the insects will be in the nest. Use a recommended product and follow the instructions carefully. Remember to dress appropriately and be prepared that you may be stung.
If you don’t feel confident in tackling the problem yourself then it is best to consult a professional exterminator – better to be safe than sorry
Learn more about local pests: