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Yellow jacket activity heats up with the weather


ManyOregonians who have dined outside lately can attest to the fact that yellowjacket activity is starting to pick up. A hot summer may be at least partiallyresponsible for increased visibilityof the stinging insect.

The OregonDepartment of Agriculture emphasizes again this year that yellow jackets arenot the same as honeybees and bumblebees, and any action taken by homeownersneeds to take that intoaccount.

“We’vebeen receiving complaints from people who are just trying to eat an outdoormeal and are unable to do so because of the yellow jackets,” says ODAentomologist and pesticide expert Rose Kachadoorian.”The yellow jackets arejust so quick and aggressive.”

Yellowjacket activity in Oregon happens ever late summer and fall. But this year,conditions are a bit different.

“We’vehad a lot of hot weather,” says Kachadoorian. “Yellow jackets largely feed offof smaller insects. Normally there can be a lot of insects feeding on grassesand other vegetation that usually would be green.Plants may be dried and brownand, in some areas, there could be a reduction in the yellow jackets’ foodsupply. As a result, yellow jackets might be foraging in areas they normallydon’t go into and maybe they arebeing a bit more aggressive.”

Alot of people may think anything that buzzes and stings is a bee. But there isa big difference between wasps or yellow jackets and the common bees still busypollinating this time of year. Honeybees andbumblebees are not the ones comingafter your dinner plate.

Waspsand yellow jackets are producing queens that will be overwintering, so they arein search of protein-rich food. Chances are outdoor diners have somethingattractive on the plate. Most likely, there’s ayellow jacket nest within aquarter of a mile of your home if the unwanted dinner guests show up. Thosenests can be in the ground, under an eave, or inside a crack in a rock wall.

Homeownersmay be tempted to do something about annoyingly aggressive yellow jackets. Akey for any pest problem is proper identification. Yellow jackets areheavy-bodied and distinctively striped yellowand black. Wasps, which havesimilar coloring, have a small connection between the thorax and abdomen. Bothdon’t make as much of a buzzing sound as the honeybee.

Withincreased recognition of the value of pollinators, any measures directed at awasp or yellow jacket problem should stay clear of negatively impactinghoneybees and bumblebees. There are steps homeownerscan take and there aresteps they definitely should not take. Spraying a pesticide product on flowersor plants won’t do anything to control yellow jackets and wasps but will causegreat harm to bees who are still lookingfor nectar and pollen.

Here’sa bad idea– spraying an aerosol can of pesticides in an opening to a discoverednest. You might be stirring up a hornet’s nest, literally.

“Youwon’t like the results,” says Kachadoorian. “Hundreds if not thousands ofangry, stinging insects will be looking for the instigator. There are manydifferent pests that homeowners can treat themselves, but Idon’t put yellowjackets in that category.

“Because they can become quite angry, we recommendthat people hire a professional applicator if they want the problem treated. Manytimes, the pros wear a suit and gogglesbecause of the threat of stinging.Pesticide applications are often done at night when the insect activity isreduced. Even after treatment, someone will have to come back and dig up thenest to expose the larvae so youdon’t get continued development.”

Anotheroption to at least slow down some of the yellow jacket activity is to purchaseand erect traps that contain a bait to lure the insect. Once inside the trap,they don’t escape and eventually die.

“Thesetraps attract the workers, but won’t kill the nest,” says Kachadoorian. “Atleast you can reduce the population level of yellow jackets. Don’t place trapstoo close to where you will eat, but around theperimeter of your yard. If youknow you are having a backyard meal or event, you can plan ahead and use anumber of these traps. It’s best to get the traps out earlier in the year toattract the queens. But even this time ofyear, it’s worth a try to use thetraps.”

Whilethese non-toxic traps contain a synthetic lure to attract worker yellowjackets, meat or wet pet food is often used to enhance the attraction.

Directingthe yellow jackets away from your meal is advisable. Preventing them from beingattracted to the outdoor dinner table may help as well, according toKachadoorian.

“Don’twear bright colored clothing, don’t wear perfume, cover food on the table asmuch as possible so that any yellow jacket in the area doesn’t go back and telltheir friends about a good place to eat. Yellowjackets also hover over garbagecans, so make sure to have a good lid. Pick up uneaten pet food or perhapsavoid serving pet food outdoors. Generally, minimize any food that mightattract yellow jackets. That’s goodadvice to avoid problems with ants androdents as well.”

Theyellow jacket season will probably last for at least several more weeks if notmonths. Normally, the workers die out in October and November while the queenmates with a drone and looks for a place tooverwinter. Whether the extendedhot and dry conditions have an impact on the timing of yellow jacket activityremains to be seen.

Withthe threat of a painful sting and the nuisance of having them hang around yourfood, it’s easy to forget that yellow jackets and wasps can also be beneficialinsects. As predators, they will feast on caterpillarsor insect life stagesthat might otherwise harm plants and crops. That probably counts for verylittle when your outdoor feast is interrupted by an unwanted dinner guest fromthe insect world.

Formore information, contact Rose Kachadoorian at (503) 986-4651 .

And here’s info from the National Park Service on your safety around yellow jackets:

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