I still remember the summer of 1973. I was playing football with my family in my grandmother’s backyard. Suddenly, I felt red hot pokers being applied to my body. I looked down and had yellow jackets buzzing angrily around my legs. You never saw a 13 year old girl peel all her clothes off so fast! Modesty be danged! By the time I got to the house, I had nothing on and 17 stings on various parts of my body. Boy — did they hurt!
Many people call the Extension Office when they come home from vacation, mow the lawn and are attacked when they run over a nest. All wasps will defend their nests, but the yellow jacket is one of the most aggressive. Apparently, I stepped on their home.
They did nothing less than what I would do if someone stepped on my house. They were only telling me to get away. And I did. If the nest is located somewhere no one will accidentally bother it, leave the nest alone.
Yellow jackets usually nest in the ground but will also nest in railroad ties, wall voids and other above ground locations. In the late summer, yellow jacket colonies become quite large in size. If a nest is disturbed, they become little rockets of pain. For most, a sting is temporary, but painful, but for allergic individuals a single sting may result in a serious reaction, requiring medical treatment.
To control these stinging critters you will need to do several things. First, locate the nest. A yellow jacket nest reminds me of an airport. The bees take off and land in an almost straight up flight. You can see them zooming in and out as you stand from a distance. Yellow jackets may have several ground entry holes in the area. Make sure you find them all. Any treatments should be done at night, because the insects are less active when it gets cooler. Wear protective clothing and try not to use any lights… even at that you still can get stung. Be very careful.
Treat the nest with an aerosol wasp and hornet spray that says it sprays up to 20 feet. Most of these products contain a pyrethrum that forms a gas that will fill the cavity, killing the yellow jackets. Check the nest the following day to see if they are indeed dead. You can tell this by a lack of activity around the entrance holes. It may be necessary to repeat treatment.
Pouring gasoline on a nest is not the way to control yellow jackets. Gasoline will sterilize the soil, get into groundwater, and evaporate into the air we breathe. Gasoline is a mixture of materials, some of which are known carcinogens. When gasoline gets on you, it burns the skin and can permanently damage the eyes and lungs. And it is extremely toxic if swallowed. Gasoline has become a favorite cure for yellow jackets. Some people pour gasoline into a yellow jacket nest and then light it. I can’t think of anything worse. A gallon of gasoline has the explosive force equal to 83 sticks of dynamite. This is not good for our environment or our health.
Remember: take care when trying to control yellow jackets. They will fiercely defend their home. With proper timing and using a proper spray, you can control these irritating critters. And just remember, if you step on a nest – run! They’ll only chase you for a short while. Don’t stand there slapping them, get away Be like me and flee the bee.
Jule-Lynne Macie is the Rockdale County Extension Coordinator. She can be reached at (770)278-7373.