Documents: Hot Horticulture Issues:

Yellowjackets
by Leonard Perry
by Leonard Perry

email: lpperry@uvm.edu

In extension I serve as an advisor and consultant to the greenhouse and nursery industry, primarily in Vermont but throughout the region and beyond as well.

I give presentations on my research to the industry, and to home groups. In Research, my focus is "herbaceous perennial production systems".

His website is at http://www.uvm.edu/~pass/perry/index.html  Leonards zone of gardening: home with my trials, generally USDA 4a. Campus in Burlington is 5.


September 26, 2017

Gardening in the summer cannot always be a bed of roses, especially if there are bees on those roses. Bees are actually good in the garden though, especially for pollination, and are seldom a bother unless really provoked. Often confused with bees are yellowjackets, which pose a much more serious threat.

Yellowjackets are not even in the same family as bees, being instead a type of wasp in the Vespid family, similar to related wasps and hornets. Without barbs on their stingers as bees have, yellowjackets can repeatedly sting their victims. They are most active in late summer when their colonies reach their peak, and they need higher levels of protein-rich or sugary foods.

A yellowjacket colony consists of the queen, female workers (which are what you may encounter), and the males which appear in late summer. Only the females that have mated with the males will overwinter to produce next year’s eggs and future offspring.

You can identify yellowjackets by their alternating black and yellow markings on their body segments, and their smaller size than many bees. Unlike bees, these wasps don’t have as much body hair or the expanded hind leg (both used for bees to transport pollen), and have a rounded abdomen. Their waist is thinner than that of bees, and their elongated wings are as long as their bodies.

Before you reach for the poison baits and spray can, consider some less toxic means to reduce encounters with these pests. Your goal should not be to eliminate them from the entire area, as they too have their use in suppressing a wide variety of pest insects.

Yellowjackets don’t just scavenge on items such as around trash—meat, fish, and sugary products—but eat flies, beetle grubs, and other pests that we don’t want.

Get rid of their most important human source of food, garbage, and you'll go far towards getting rid of them. Keep garbage covered, and dispose of it frequently. Also rake up and dispose of fruit drops whose sugar attracts them.

You also can use food to trap them. Make traps of one-liter size soft drink bottles. Bait these with left over soda, cat food, ham, tuna, or over ripe fruit. Then place at the farthest corners of your property.

While they don’t go out of their way to sting, they are quick to defend their homes. If you get stung, you may have cornered or surprised a yellowjacket, or gotten too near their colony.

Although yellowjackets make paper nests similar to other wasps, they usually build these nests underground. Watch for underground nest openings they may be entering and leaving. Nesting colonies also may be found in building cavities, under porches and steps, in bushes, or at the base of trees. If you notice them flying about your garden, use caution when weeding! Using the proper precautions, you can spray ground openings or nests in evening, and again in morning. Use a wasp and hornet spray that reaches 20 feet, and leave immediately upon spraying.

While working in the garden you can protect yourself from stings with a few simple measures. Avoid wearing brightly colored and patterned clothes. Avoid wearing perfumes and other scents such as from deodorants, scented hairspray, or from suntan lotion.

Maintaining your composure around yellowjackets, or if they land on you, also can help prevent stings. Move slowly and keep calm. Swatting or other fast movement can agitate them, provoking stings and even bites. Yes, they can even bite! Slowly brush them off, or waiting until they fly off on their own, is better than hitting or constraining them. Squashing a yellowjacket also releases a chemical alarm that signals others to the area to attack!

In spite of all these precautions, if you do get stung, here is what to do. This assumes you are not hypersensitive to bee and wasp venom, in which case you should have emergency medicines with you.

--Examine the site of the sting to see if it is from a bee or yellowjacket. If from a bee, the stinger will still be there. Scrape it out with a side-to-side motion.

--Wash the wound with soap and water to remove some of the venom.

--Treat the wound with ice, meat tenderizer (which contains enzymes that destroy proteins in the venom), or anti-histamines (to reduce symptoms such as pain and swelling).

--Rest and don't drink alcohol.

--Seek medical attention if the sting is to the mouth or throat, as swelling there could obstruct breathing. Don't let yellowjackets drive you from your garden. A few simple changes to your human environment outdoors, your clothing and actions, may be all that is needed to drive them away instead.

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