Yellow Jackets and Bees Nearing Peak

Monday, August 25, 2008

This is the time of year that yellow jackets and bees are out in force looking for food. Despite this year being fairly quiet in terms of calls related to hornets, wasps and bees, one should be on guard to not encounter a nest or accidentally swallow one of these insects.

Last Sunday, someone I know was stung 10 times and is now in serious condition in a coma due to reactions from the stings. This person had no previous history of bee or wasp allergies and became a victim while raking near shrubs next to the house.

Yellow jackets and honey bees forage pretty widely at this particular time of year frequenting picnics, outdoor food events and gatherings, fairs and football games. They are looking for proteins and sugars, and that's primarily what most people use as refreshments, so they will swarm around pop or sandwiches.

This isn't the only time that yellow jackets and other stinging insects are foraging for food, but it is the time that people are most likely to encounter them, especially once it cools off and folks spend more time outdoors. Wasp and bee colonies are at their peak after they have been working all summer. The queen has been reproducing, and the colonies have been growing. Some yellow jacket colonies have several thousand individuals at this point in time. Yellow jackets and bees can sting, but when they visit outdoor events they're more interested in finding food than protecting their nest. Therefore it's easier to avoid being stung.

Check out the pub HN-36 entitled "A Wasp Nest? The Best Answer May be Just to Let it Be" or E-44 entitled "Social Bees and Wasps" and E-248 entitled "Stinging Insects and Medical Risks" at on the web.

Bees and wasps can be controlled primarily by removing whatever is attracting their attention. Things like covering garbage cans and moving them away from places where people are going to gather are the best preventative measures.

Bees and wasps are social insects, and they recruit each other. Once they find a food source, they will go back and tell their nest mates where it is located. The longer a food source is open, whether that's a garbage can or a ham sandwich, the more chance bees and wasps are going to try to feed on it.

Dealing with an entire colony is another matter all together. Often people will either see a nest in their eaves or happen to be out mowing and all of a sudden a whole bunch of yellow jackets come swarming out of the ground. Every year people die because they are hyperallergic to the venom from either yellow jackets or honey bees, so it's a very serious situation.

Bees and wasps both are very beneficial in the environment so the choice to control a nest or hive depends largely on location. If the nest is in an area known to be frequented by kids and there's a high probability that someone is going to agitate it, yes it needs to be taken out. But if wasps like bald face hornets are higher in the tree, say 12-20 feet, it may be best to warn people that there is a nest there and to not get close to it. If they are in the backwoods where nobody is going to get to them, by all means it needs to be left alone, because they are beneficial.

Sometimes bees and wasps take up residence in homes. In this case, it's important to determine what kind of insect is present. Honey bee nests in the home really have to be taken out by a professional.

If one goes in with pesticides and kills the bees, there still is all of that honey stored in the wall void. Without the bees there's no temperature regulation, and on a hot day the wax and honey will melt and seep through walls. It's going to ferment and attract other insects, pests and all that vermin that you really don't want to see inside your home. Yellow jackets are wasps, so their nests are less messy.

Wasps will not reuse the nest the following year, so if you can wait until the first or second good solid freeze, the wasps will disappear on their own.

A lot of people mistake yellow jackets for honey bees. There are a couple of ways homeowners can tell them apart. Wasps generally do not have a hairy abdomen, bees generally do. Yellow jackets often have a little more distinct separation between the blacks and the yellows with the stripes more defined. There are several different species of yellow jackets.

You can contact the local Purdue Extension Office by calling 829-5020 Ext. 14 in Owen County or 448-9041 in Clay County for more information or publication copies regarding this week's column topic or to RSVP for upcoming events. It is always best to call first to assure items are ready when you arrive and to RSVP for programs. While most publications are free, some do have a fee. All times listed are Eastern Time.

Upcoming Events

Aug. 28 SARE Farmer Grant Writing Workshop, Spencer, 7-9 p.m.

Sept. 5-6 Grazing 102, Rochester

Sept. 13 Nature Daze, Brown County, 9 a.m.