Much like ants and other scavenging pests, yellow jackets can be a nuisance at barbecues, camping, and other summertime gatherings. But while a few yellow jackets around your home are nothing to worry about, how can Georgia homeowners know when their activity is evidence of a larger problem?
The fact is, while small numbers of yellow jackets rarely cause more than a minor nuisance for homeowners, a large nest near to your home can become a serious health risk for people and pets. Yellow jackets are aggressive and territorial, and a nest near to your home needs to be quickly identified and eradicated.
So the question is: how do you identify signs of yellow jacket activity? And what should you do if you find a nest near to your home?
Yellow jackets share many similarities in appearance with honeybees and hornets. They grow to around half an inch in length and have black and yellow bands across their bodies. These pests are members of the taxonomic family Vespidae, which includes over 5,000 of species of wasps.
Yellow jackets, like many other social wasps species, establish large nests that contain egg-laying queens supported by more than a thousand workers. The yellow jacket workers are tasked with gathering food, caring for the young, and defending the nest from potential threats. Yellow jacket workers are often spotted around the yard scavenging for food, particularly in gardens, trashcans, and around outdoor eating areas. While they have a diverse diet, yellow jackets have a particular preference for sweet, sugary foods as adults and developing larvae feed on high protein meat products. The typical barbecue, with its excess of fruits and meat products, is thus a major attraction for the workers.
Yellow jackets nest on or near to the ground. They tend to pick secluded species such as tree stumps, the underside of porches, or in wall voids.
Queens will establish new nests seasonally, usually during the early summer and will be abandoned by fall when cold weather returns.
Though yellow jackets tend not to be as aggressive while scavenging, they can and will sting when threatened. Like most wasps, yellow jacket stings can be pretty painful, and for those with allergies, they can cause a hazardous reaction that may require medical attention. Yellow jackets can also sting the same target multiple times, and in a swarm, they can be a risk to even those who have mild allergies.
While they can be a nuisance pest, yellow jackets can actually be beneficial if they are not too close to your home. Like many bee species, yellow jackets are pollinators and thus assist in maintaining the ecosystem of gardens, lawns, and forests. Further, they often prey on a variety of pests such as flies, beetles, and other damaging pests.
That said, a nest in close proximity to your home can be a major risk. Yellow jackets are extremely aggressive when defending their nests, and a swarm of workers could result in multiple painful stings and possibly serious health complications from a large amount of concentrated venom. For this reason, a nest on your property should only be dealt with by a trained pest control professional who is equipped with the equipment and training necessary to safely neutralize the nest.
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