It’s Yellow Jacket Time In Georgia!
Long, hot days filled with sunshine, sweating, water activities, and outdoor fun…ah yes, Georgia in the summer. But wait, there’s more. July and August also bring yellow jackets out to visit the playground, garden day, pool time, and picnic. And as the mother of highly allergic kiddos, my personal opinion is that they are not welcome guests. But here we are, and there they come. So let’s make the best of it and educate ourselves on these scary little neighbors.
Yellowjackets are, not surprisingly, yellow and black in color. They have a small midsection and are primarily flying insects. The US alone has 16 varieties of yellowjackets, and this little insect can be found around the world. It is interesting that only the queen lives through each winter to start a new colony each spring. Usually, the hive is built underground or sometimes in a high area such as a tree or the eave of a building. Cellulose comprises the building material for the paper-like home.
These little guys enjoy sugar (don’t we all?) and will eat fruit or even sip on a soda left on your porch. I saw this firsthand last night as I picked apples from my trees and had to dodge the little pests in my fruit pursuit. Their diet is not simply sugars however as larvae also eat protein such as other insects. This meat-eating tendency is an unusual feature of the yellow jacket.
Although they are not known to be particularly aggressive, if a person or animal comes near the nest…there will be problems. Not only will they sting, but they can each sting multiple times in defense of their hive. Again, through personal experience, I know this to be true. I remember as a kid following my dad through the woods and unknowingly disturbing a nest. It was a vicious attack and quite painful! Thankfully, I am not allergic like my kids. So pain and swelling and itching were unpleasant but no long-term harm was done. Still, it is supposedly possible to become hypersensitive to stings after such an experience, so caution is definitely in order. You better believe I watch where I’m walking now and will stay away from any area with swarming little hornets.
The rebuilding of the nest begins in the spring with the only surviving member of the hive, the queen. Therefore it is easier to eradicate the nests earlier in the year. The nest is smaller, however, so a thorough check of problem areas is necessary to find the little hornets before they find you. A long, dry spring can yield nests of more than 5,000 yellow jackets! Late summer and early fall are the height of yellow jacket season and may require an expert to safely get rid of the problem.
These insects are incredibly unique and interesting, even if they are a bit scary. Not only do they eat meat and drink coke, but they also eat other insect pests. Solitary bees can be seen foraging for food for the colony. The yellow jacket is a danger to honeybees. Through the use of pheromones, they can sense weakness in the hives and will attack and kill an entire hive. They eat the honey, the larvae, eggs, and pupa.
To eradicate the yellow jackets in prime season can be a dangerous endeavor, especially to those with sensitivities. A trained expert is always the safest option. Pyrethroids are effective but only if sprayed directly on the bees. Blocking the entrance is a common practice, but they may find a new exit. The yellow jackets are less active at night but if disturbed can be attracted to light, such as your flashlight. A bee suit or protective clothing like a veil or bee helmet is recommended. Obviously, this is not something most homeowners keep in the hall closet, so it may be cheaper, in the long run, to pay for a professional instead of paying for a trip to the emergency room. Just something to keep in mind!