First off, it’s important to note that yellow jackets are not bees. They aren’t ground hornets either, although they can nest in the ground. Yellow jackets, named for their distinct black and yellow stripe pattern, are Germanic in origin. This is why their Latin name is Vespula germanica. While yellow jackets happen to be in the same family of insects as bees, they do not pollinate like bees do.
Yellow jackets are hive animals, and they are primarily carnivores during the spring and early summer, when you’re likely to be out and about. Yellow jackets feed primarily on other insects. For this reason, they are solid pest control for your garden or homestead… until they become pests themselves. In late summer, yellow jackets become scavengers. They also become more aggressive. One colony can contain 1,000 insects that will actively defend the nest. They are easily agitated and will attack in force.
Yellow jackets can deal out nasty stings. Unlike bees, a single yellow jacket is capable of stinging more than once. To prevent stings, do not swat at yellow jackets. If they are hovering around you it is because you smell like food, or you are near their nest. Yellow jackets are also attracted to sugar late in the summer season, so if you or your kids are drinking a soda outside, try pouring it into a glass so you can see what’s in there. Also, cover your garbage cans. The contents of your trash can during an end of the summer BBQ is an absolute haven for these insects.
You need to seek immediate medical treatment if you are stung by yellow jackets more than 15 times, have been stung in the mouth, or show allergy symptoms such as swelling in the throat, hives, or difficulty breathing.
Assuming that you don’t have allergies, yellow jacket stings aren’t a huge deal, but they do hurt. A few homemade remedies can do the trick in terms of easing the pain. Note: Ice will bring down the swelling of multiple stings, as will any antihistamine.
- Make a paste of baking soda and water, apply it to the sting.
- Place a dab of toothpaste on the sting.
- Hold a damp tea bag to the sting site.
A yellow jacket nest that is attached to the side of your house or living on a highly-traveled footpath on your property, is a nest that will likely need to be removed. You could contact professional exterminators, but if you are the self-reliant type you can do it yourself. Remember to always approach an active yellow jacket nest in the evening, as the heat tends to keep them more dormant. Also, remember to plan accordingly. Have an escape route in mind, and wear clothing that protects your bare skin. Here are a few nest-removal techniques:
- Spray the nest using any one of the numerous wasp-control products out there today. Try using an organic one with mint oil as the active ingredient, this way you don’t risk poisoning your soil or tree.
- Using a cloth bag and a large bucket of water, carefully wrap the nest in the bag and place it (immediately) in the water. Place a heavy stone on top of the nest and allow it to sit overnight. This will effectively drown the yellow jackets however it is one of the more riskier ways to remove the nest.
- Bury the nest. If the nest is underground, take a shovel and bury the entrance. Make sure to pack down the soil, as these insects are capable of digging.