The other afternoon, I was working along the edge of the woods in my yard. I looked down, and there was a yellow jacket stinging my glove. While I watched, it stung my glove seven or eight times before I flicked it off. I stayed in the area, looking for the nest, but didn't find one.
So why was this lone yellow jacket attacking? Usually, wasps attack only when their nest is being disturbed, but late in the summer and early fall they do become more aggressive.
Yellow jackets are house-fly-sized wasps with distinct yellow and black markings and a few hairs. Like other wasps, they make a paper nest. This nest is usually located underground. They like to build the nest in stumps and stump holes, under shrubs, or any void they can find underground. Occasionally, yellow jackets will nest in attics, old cars, storage buildings or in walls of homes and buildings.
A yellow jacket nest will begin in the spring with a queen. She finds a nest site and starts to build. Once the queen has produced enough workers to take over nest-building and foraging duties, she stays inside the nest, producing more offspring. The workers' other duties are to feed the young and defend the nest.
By late summer, a yellow jacket nest will have about 800 workers. This is the time of the year that most people find the nest, because of the large number of workers entering and leaving. Also, late summer is the time of the year when the next generation of queens is produced. Males are produced at this time as well. The new queens and the males have a mating flight. After mating, the males die and the new queens find a sheltered spot to spend the winter. This year's nest will be abandoned by wintertime. Usually, the nest is not used again by yellow jackets. Nests have been found in Alabama and South Carolina that have been used for many years, however, and these nests have many queens and thousands of workers.
The yellow jacket that was attacking my glove was stinging multiple times. Wasps are not like bees. When a bee stings, the stinger is pulled out of the body, and the bee dies. Wasps can sting multiple times because they don't lose their stinger.
In the fall, yellow jackets become more aggressive. One reason is that the population of the nest is at its highest. Therefore, it takes more food for the colony and the wasps are more prone to protect its food source. Another reason that I have heard is that the days are getting shorter. I don't know if this is true, but it sounds good.
There are several things that you can do to help protect yourself from yellow jackets. First, you need to keep a lookout for a numbers of wasps flying around an area. You should be able to find the entrance hole to the nest close by. The second thing that you can do is to cover all food and drinks when you are outside.
Many people have been stung by yellow jackets when they took a drink from an uncovered can. Also, you need to keep lids on garbage cans or use a can with a flap on it.
So, you found a nest of yellow jackets. Now what do you do? If the nest is out of the way or in an area where no one goes, you can leave it alone. Yellow jackets are beneficial insects. They prey on many insects that we consider pests, especially caterpillars. If the nest is in an area that endangers people, you need to kill the nest.
The best control is to apply a pesticide directly into the nest opening. This can be accomplished by using one of the wasps and hornet sprays that shoot 10-15 feet. The best time of the day to do this is late in the afternoon, as close to dark as possible. You will need to shoot the whole can of spray into the hole. You might need to repeat the application in a day or two. Also, don't use a light of any kind. The yellow jackets will follow the light back to its source.
We don't recommend pouring gasoline down the hole. This is extremely hazardous and environmentally unfriendly.
As you are out in the yard this time of year, remember to keep an eye out for yellow jackets. Remember, they are most aggressive when protecting their nest.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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