Lately, I have received many calls about yellow jackets. Usually, I don't get these calls until late August or September, when yellow jackets become more aggressive, but more nests are now being found.
Yellow jacket nests can be hard to find, and most people don't know they are there until getting swarmed. Not too long ago, I was working in my yard and looked down, and there was a yellow jacket stinging my glove.
While I watched, she stung my glove seven or eight times before I knocked her off. I looked for the nest, but didn't find one.
Why was this lone yellow jacket attacking? Typically, wasps attack only when their nest is being disturbed.
Yellow jackets are fly-size wasps with distinct yellow and black markings and a few hairs. Like other wasps, they make a paper nest. This nest is usually 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 queen finds a nest site and starts to build the nest during the spring. Once the queen has produced enough workers to take over nest-building and foraging duties, she stays inside producing more offspring.
Besides building the nest and foraging for food, the workers have 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 the large number of workers entering and leaving it.
Late summer also is the time of 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; however, nests have been found in Alabama and South Carolina that have been used for many years.
In the fall, yellow jackets become more aggressive. The population of the nest is at its highest, so it takes more food for the colony and the wasps are more prone to protect its food source.
Yellow jackets are beneficial insects. They prey on many insects that we consider pests, especially caterpillars.
Reach Columbia County extension agent Charles Phillips at (706) 868-3413 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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