Saturday, June 6, 2009

One Mean Mother! The Yellow Jacket by Carol King

Spoiler of afternoon social events; destroyer of sweet drinks outdoors; culprit in 90 % of bee stings; nominated as among 100 of the “World’s Worst” invaders by the Invasive Species Specialists Group; considered the most dangerous stinging insect in the United States….yes, it is the yellow jacket or Vespula vulgaris, the apt Latin name for this creature.
We know her and her offspring well: they can sting repeatedly because their stingers have no barbs. They will sting for no reason, or because you disturb their nests. They compete with birds and other insects for insect prey and sugar sources; they eat fruit crops and scavenge around trashcans, picnic sites and your garden tea party. They cause deadly allergic reactions in some people. They get into your ice cream, your lemonade, your beer.
Why talk about them now since they reach their peak in late summer and early fall? Yellow jackets can be controlled to some extent if we start early, rather than waiting until they are buzzing around our barbecues.
Yellow jackets are social wasps, living in a community rather than alone. But every spring these communities have to be redeveloped because all the wasps except fertile queens died over the winter. In the spring queens emerge and begin searching for suitable nesting sites. She builds a paper pulp nest from wood pulp that she has gathered from weathered wood, softened by chewing and mixing with saliva. Once the nest is the size of a walnut, she starts laying eggs. The eggs hatch and the workers are sent out to forage. Thant’s when the trouble really begins. A mature colony can have hundreds or thousands of wasps. One colony in Alabama was reported to be the size of a Volkswagen beetle. So now is the time to put out the wasp traps to catch those fertile queens. With any luck, you can catch several dozen queens as they bumble around trying to find a nice home for their families. The chemical heptyl butyrate is included as a lure in the wasp traps. It mimics the ordor of fruit is only attractive to yellow jackets. You will not harm beneficial insects.
So come on; get some traps; do your duty. Save us from Vespula vulgaris. She’s one mean mother!