September 16, 2010 at 10:09 a.m.
I don't remember yellow jackets when I was young and for good reason. They were introduced accidentally to the northeastern United States in the late 1960's and they have been with us ever since. There is more than one kind of yellow jacket but it's the German yellow jacket that is sharing your picnic lunch or your beverage. They are usually considered beneficial insects in the garden. They begin their life cycle as meat eaters of insects such as aphids on rose bushes and worms on ripening apples. The fertilized queen starts producing in the spring and by late summer there can be more than one thousand yellow jackets in a nest.
As summer ends, the yellow jackets experience a shortage in the food supply as insects like maggots and caterpillars become scarce. In September the drones or worker bees are banished from the hive because they are no longer needed and they eat honey the queen needs to save for the winter. This means more bees are patrolling your yard and garden at this time of year looking for food, which increases the risk of being stung. They also can get into fermenting fruit and become intoxicated. That changes their behavior so they become mean and aggressive. Yellow jackets are social insects that are fiercely territorial, whether they are defending their nests or taking a drink from your pop can.
I used to believe that yellow jackets were just a nuisance bee until I read that they are the most dangerous stinging insects around. They are blamed for between fifty to one hundred deaths each year. Another down side to this type of bee is that while a honey bee can only sting once it loses its' stinger, the yellow jacket can sting multiple times.
I'm not going to get into allergic reactions from bees because I know very little about the subject. I do know that bee stings can be a little like poison ivy in that there comes a point where repeated exposure or multiple bee stings can result in an increased risk of allergic reaction.
I will cover the control of yellow jackets in a later article, but for this article there are some things you can do. Since they like meat and sweets, keep all garbage and disposal cans covered. If you find a nest on the ground, first try pouring a soap and water solution into the hole and any type of detergent will work. If that doesn't work, sprinkle chlorpyrifos dust into the opening or mix a liquid concentrate such as Sevin and pour it into the nest opening.
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