Sunday, May 19, 2024
May 19, 2024

Nobody Asked Me, But: A brief guide to the care of your misunderstood yellowjacket

By this time of the year, as the season changes from summer to autumn, you’ve just about had it up the wazoo with wasps. I know, I know, they have their purpose too. They are Mother Nature’s way of cleaning up the environment by getting rid of all the dead, decaying, decomposing, and rotting organisms left littering our biosphere. Why, I ask, can’t they just leave us alone and go find some other planet to clean up?

As most of us know, the actual purpose that wasps have in this world is to annoy and harass us. We have quite a few varieties of wasps sharing our air space, including mud wasps and hover wasps to name a couple, but the one we love to hate is the heinous yellowjacket.

Although not as fear inducing as some flying insects found in other parts of the globe, such as the murder hornet or the tarantula wasp (which preys upon and eats tarantula spiders), these bad boys have made a habit of ruining the last remaining days of good weather. 

Why are yellowjacket wasps so badly behaved as the summer draws to a close? It all has to do with their life cycle. There comes a point when the queen stops laying the eggs she has been producing to increase the size of the hive. She also stops releasing pheromone, the chemical which the lowly worker wasps are hooked on and which causes them to work overtime to bring food back to the hive. 

In essence, they are forced to go “cold turkey” into involuntary obsolescence. If that’s not bad enough, the adult wasps are no longer able to digest the solid proteins they have been gathering to share with the larvae in the hives. As a result, the only substance that keeps them from starving to death are sugary liquids such as, you guessed it, that mug of beer you thought you were chugalugging on your own.

What’s a poor yellowjacket to do? Suddenly he’s unemployed, cut off from real food, disowned by his queen mother, and forced to find some semblance of meaning to his aimless existence. Naturally, he turns to drink. Wouldn’t you?

Think of the yellowjacket as a bored teenager on steroids who is packed chockfull with copious amounts of attitude. If he could, he would turn his antennae around on his head and wear them backwards like a ball cap. 

Basically, your dinner table is his mall and your beverage is his skate park. You may think that the beer in your mug or bottle belongs to you but he will bet you a mouthful of stinger that you are wrong and that he can invite himself to an all-you-can-sip free-for-all smorgasbord that is the best party happening since the last rave swarming at this summer’s Burning Wasp Festival.

And it should come as no surprise that word of a patio barbecue gets around in no time flat. 

Yellowjackets are particularly adept at social media, especially WaspBook and In-sting-gram. It just takes one little post by a single vagabond scout, and the party is on! Before you can say “bzzzz”, the air is full of thousands of followers and your barbecue has gone viral.

Unlike bees, who have little barbs at the end of their stingers, and therefore can only sting you once before they have their stingers torn off their bodies, thereby killing themselves, wasps can inject their venom into you over and over again, and still live to brag about their exploits once they’ve returned to the hive. Even the venom that wasps employ is different than the ones used by bees. 

The culprit for yellowjackets is a combination of antigen 5 and hyaluronidases. Together, these noxious chemicals can induce allergic reactions which may include pain, redness, swelling, itchiness, and, in the worst cases, difficulty breathing. In the most severe conditions, wasp venom which enters the bloodstream can cause anaphylactic shock which may result in death for the critically allergic. 

Obviously, these wasps are not exactly the types you would want to take home to meet the parents.

So, now that you’re intimate with the inner workings of the yellowjacket wasp, you probably want to know how to get rid of them or at least increase the chances that they go do their dirty work over at your neighbour’s place. 

Swiping at them with one or both of your hands rarely does much more than aggravate them to the point that they are ready to engage in battle with any bare skin you dare to expose. 

The South Africans have a saying that when you wave at a wasp, you are actually giving it the signal that you are inviting it to come closer. Fly swatters increase your chances of knocking a wasp out of the air, but you are just as likely to do damage to friends nearby you, especially if you accidentally swipe a wasp into somebody’s open mouth. 

Electronic wasp zappers that electrocute the little suckers with their electric grids have become the latest craze, but almost every male I know (including me) has first felt obligated to test out the strength of the shock by intentionally painfully zapping themselves. For some odd reason, females do not seem to possess this same macho gene.

A tactic that some people swear by is blowing air into a brown paper bag and hanging it in an area you want clear of wasps. The theory here is that the bag will be mistaken for an actual wasp nest and dissuade real wasps from locating their hive nearby. 

Most yellowjackets get a tremendous chuckle when they fly by these air-filled phonies and have actually learned to use them as signposts to tell them that food is near.

A very popular commercial product available in hardware stores is the wasp trap. There are quite a few models, disposable or refillable, but essentially they attract wasps into a chamber where they either drown in a watery liquid or perish from exhaustion because they can’t find a way back out. Although these traps work brilliantly, no matter how many yellowjacket corpses pile up in the trap, you will find that there are just as many wasps still pestering you as there were before you set it up.

Nobody asked me, but I can’t help but feel a little sorry for those remaining yellowjackets as they crawl and buzz around aimlessly in a drunken stupor from over-imbibing in the fermenting windfall apples strewn along the orchard ground. 

Their zombie-like behaviour reminds me of the blank look in the eyes of the sheep at the Fall Fair before the border collies arrive on the scene to give their lives direction and purpose. But luckily, soon it will all be over for another year. The poor, desperate wasps will die off, and I can get back to the serious business of testing on myself how much punch those zappers really pack.

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  1. Absolutely hilarious & immediately appreciable by the majority of Islanders during our long warm late Aug & Sept. Some of those unemployed wasps actually drowned inside my hummingbird feeders, having entered easily, whereupon finding themselves unable to get out. Speaking of sugary water, cheap beer in old cans or yogurt containers gets rid of dozens per can. They get drunk & drown happily. One presumes. But you’re right, there are always more the next day. Just keep the beer on the side of the porch or clothesline where you are not & they’ll go the bar & leave you alone.

  2. thank you, marie,
    on behalf of all wasps everywhere, in the words of Canadian rock band Trooper, “we’re here for a good time, not for a long time” and any time is happy hour. — shilo

  3. I completely understand where you’re coming from! Wasps can be incredibly annoying, especially when they’re trying to steal our food or drink. It’s definitely not fun to have them around.

    However, it’s important to remember that they do serve a purpose in the ecosystem. Without them, we would have a lot more dead and decaying organisms around. So, while they might be a nuisance, they are actually doing us a bit of a favor.

    Of course, that doesn’t make it any less annoying when they’re buzzing around our heads!


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