It is a common late-summer story: you’re enjoying a picnic on a sunny afternoon, and there’s a bee buzzing around your food. Then there’s another one… and another… and suddenly you are being swarmed. Wait, those aren’t bees; they are yellow jackets! Now everyone is running away, and your day is ruined.
Yellow jackets have a reputation for being aggressive and dangerous. Deservedly so – to a degree – but they also have some redeeming qualities. So, let’s look at what yellow jackets are and the risks of being around them.
Yellow jackets are a species of social wasp commonly found in much of North America. With their black-and-yellow-striped bodies, they are frequently mistaken for their friendlier honeybee cousins.
Most yellow jackets are slightly smaller than bees, but yellow jacket queens can be as large as ¾” long. They do not have pollen sacs like honeybees do, but they’re still beneficial as incidental pollinators of flowering plants. Yellow jackets are also helpful because they consume garden pests like aphids, caterpillars, and grubs. Other yellow jacket food sources include nectar, fruits, tree sap, and even meat or fish.
Yellow jackets nest in areas protected from sunlight, wind, and rain. They tend to avoid humans but may build their nests too close for human comfort – such as in sheds, gardens, or even vents or overhangs on your home.
The Boston area is home to multiple yellow jacket species including the common yellow jacket (Vespula vulgaris), eastern yellow jacket (Vespula maculifrons), German yellow jacket (Vespula germanica), and the ground hornet (Vespula vidua).
There’s a reason so many sports teams are named after yellow jackets. While they rarely attack unprovoked, yellow jackets become very aggressive when threatened. They can and will swarm humans or animals when they sense a threat, stinging repeatedly.
Yellow jackets are territorial, so they can become especially aggressive when they perceive a threat to their nest or queen. If you kill even a single yellow jacket, you may attract a swarm. A crushed yellow jacket emits a pheromone that signals a threat to its colony, which will then rush to attack anyone in the vicinity of their deceased comrade. This is one of several reasons to avoid attempting to deal with a yellow jacket problem yourself.
Another reason to give yellow jackets a wide berth is that they will chase down their target while attacking. They can both sting and bite, sometimes biting down to sting more effectively. Unlike honeybees, yellow jacket stingers do not remain in your skin… so they can sting a single victim multiple times.
Yellow jackets are also sensitive to sound and vibration, so simply working or playing near their nest may spur them to action. That is one of the reasons why someone mowing their lawn can run afoul of yellow jackets.
Yellow jackets have a reputation for being dangerous because of the number of stings that can occur when they attack. A sting can be painful but usually will not cause more than temporary redness, discomfort, and inflammation. Occasionally, fatigue and itching or warmth at the site of the sting may occur.
Unfortunately, as with any other kind of insect bite, there are individuals who have serious sensitivities or allergies to yellow jacket venom and may require medical intervention.
Can yellow jackets kill you? It’s rare, but yes… they can. Severe allergic reactions to yellow jacket venom can be fatal. When attacked by a nest of yellow jackets, the sheer number of stings and the toxins they inject can kill a person or animal – even in the absence of allergies. It takes around 1,500 stings to kill an adult man, but each yellow jacket can sting repeatedly… and some large colonies consist of thousands of insects with up to 50 queens.
Yellow jackets are useful pollinators that typically mind their own business. But their business becomes yours when they nest too close to your home. If you have yellow jackets on your property, it is strongly recommended you avoid the nest and do not attempt to remove them yourself. The professionals at Fox Pest Control Boston are experienced in yellow jacket removal and are here to help. For more information, contact us today.
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