This past week when Doug was mowing around a mound of topsoil to make it more accessible for the excavator, he was stung painfully. We warned the men working on our septic system, but though they dug up and moved that mound, they encountered no bees.
Just a few days after the dirt pile had been moved, we were startled to find a fresh hole about six inches in diameter in our little barnyard flower bed . When we investigated, we found it was full of bees, and we suspected the ground bees might be relocating.
I called the state entomologist Phil Pelliteri , and he set me straight.
Ground bees did not move their home or dig this hole.
They aren’t even ground bees.
They are yellow jackets.
This particular species make paper nests, but they make them in existing cavities – often an abandoned animal burrow. Their entrance is about the size of a quarter.
The hole we came upon was probably made by a skunk looking for a high protein snack of yellow jacket larvae.
Thanks to that skunk, I now a lot more about yellow jackets.
1. This is the time of year you are most likely to be stung
2. Even so, Yellow Jackets are NOT out to get you.
3. They will all be gone by mid October.
We live with many different bees and wasps around our barn. Another species of wasp builds paper nests in my greenhouse, and I’ve been able to live with them. I move about deliberately, and they leave me alone.
I admire them. I imagine that wasps could well be the species that becomes dominant when humans and other large mammals have all gone extinct if we mismanage global warming as badly as I fear we will. The wasps may be poised for world domination just like those runty, timid mammals were after the dinosaurs were wiped out. Wasps and bees are organized and aerial. They are social. They care for their young, and they are armed and dangerous.
Nobody likes to get too close to the business end of a wasp, and this is the time of year when wasps are most likely to sting humans. Phil bases this on sting reports. In some cases in late summer a third of the people who walk into the emergency room have yellow jacket stings. Most of those stings will come from the German yellow jacket, which are often misnamed garbage bees. These cavity nesters have been in Wisconsin for about 35 years. (Sting reports have been declining the past five years, according to Phil.)
Each spring, queens who have overwintered in some protected spot find a home and start to produce a colony. At first there is just the queen and a few workers. By fall, there may be as many as 3,000 individuals in that colony. All summer they have been going out there and using their stingers and legs to attack and subdue tiny prey. They eat many caterpillars and other insect pests that damage crops and garden plants. Thank you, Ms. Yellow Jacket!
But as the summer wears on, their food sources disappear. They are looking for protein and sugar sources — and that is when they notice humans eating outdoors.
Another thing that makes them cranky is lawn mowers roaring over their entrance. And they get steamed when their quarter-sized net opening is stepped on. This is the time of year, when their numbers are highest, they can make their disapproval most keenly felt.
Phil advised me to leave them alone, if I can easily stay out of their way. There are pesticides which which I could anhiliate them at night while they are quiet, but by late October they will be dead anyway. So I don’t see the reason to put poison on the ground where they are living now.
Soon the colonies will produce their only male members and a new generation of queens, who will fly up into the air and mate madly, then the queens will find a hidey hole for the winter, and in the spring the whole cycle begins again. New queens do not tend to return to previous holes.
Note: If the cavity they have set up housekeeping in happens to be within the walls of your house, you will probably start to notice them coming and going now that their numbers are so high. It is a big mistake to plug that hole. That will result in a lot of very angry yellow jackets coming into your house through other openings you didn’t even know were there.
It’s beyond the scope of this post to tell you how to get rid of these unwelcome neighbors, but here is a good site with advice on how to deal with stings.
What have been your close encounters?
What do you think of these intense, little critters?
Categories: TALES FROM OUR 44 ACRES