Wasps ar­riv­ing, but they’ll soon be gone

Daily Southtown - - Front Page - Paul Eisen­berg

Self care dur­ing a pan­demic puts added em­pha­sis on en­joy­ing the lit­tle things.

This sum­mer I’ve made sure to make a lit­tle time to sit out­side and read rather than just fo­cus­ing on yard­work. I find new places to take a stroll in­stead of just gen­er­at­ing a higher heart rate by pow­er­walk­ing through the neigh­bor­hood.

And on par­tic­u­larly nice days, I try to set aside a half-hour or so to en­joy lunch onmy pa­tio, mak­ing a nice sand­wich and even gar­nish­ing the plate with a home­made pickle to give it an al fresco feel.

Add a glass of iced tea, and it’s down­right pleas­ant.

At least itwas, un­til the fly­ing jerks started show­ing up.

Out­door din­ing, by ne­ces­sity, is en vogue right now, and that’s seem­ingly a boon for the bees.

Only, they aren’t bees at all. They’re yel­low and black, and they’ll sting if pro­voked, but not every­thing that fits that de­scrip­tion is a bee.

Bob Bry­er­ton, an in­ter­pre­tive nat­u­ral­ist with the For­est Pre­serve District of Will County, calls them “free agents” this time of year, though they’re ac­tu­ally yel­low­jack­ets, a wasp com­mon to the area.

So why are they so pesky on warm and sunny early fall days?

“They don’t re­ally swarm peo­ple,” he said. “It’s just that their­work is ba­si­cally done for the year and they are on their own.”

Through­out the bulk of the sum­mer, Yel­low­jack­ets are busy catch­ing other bugs to feed to the young­sters back at the nest, lar­vae that will growup to be­come queens that move out to start a new nest else­where, males whose only job is to mate and then die, or work­ers.

This time of year, all the lar­vae have grown up, so those work­ers are “free,” Bry­er­ton said, and can now go out and eat what they want.

And by the end of sum­mer, each nest can be full of about 2,000 worker wasps that are bored and hun­gry, ac­cord­ing to for­mer Univer­sity of Illi­nois Ex­ten­sion en­to­mol­o­gist Phil Nixon.

That’s when the yel­low­jack­ets start be­com­ing re­ally pesky, Bry­er­ton said.

“They are at­tracted to sweet things and showup on hum­ming­bird feed­ers and at pic­nics around the sweet drinks and food look­ing for ameal,” he said.

“So re­ally, they are kind of on re­tire­ment, with no re­spon­si­bili--

ties ex­cept to feed them­selves.”

It’s hard to blame them. I mean, who doesn’t like a cool sweet drink on a bright sunny fall af­ter­noon?

And call­ing them bees does a dis­ser­vice to bees, who gen­er­ally get along bet­ter with other denizens of sub­ur­ban yards and fields.

While hon­ey­bees hunt for flower nec­tar, pol­li­nat­ing crops and other plants in the process, yel­low­jack­ets are on the hunt for other in­sects to feed to their young, kind of like spi­ders of the sky. Bees have barbed stingers and die af­ter they sting, while yel­low­jack­ets, which do not pro­duce honey, can sting peo­ple re­peat­edly.

“Hon­ey­bees tend to be more gen­tle and yel­low­jack­ets more ag­gres­sive and will­ing to sting,” Bry­er­ton said.

They’re es­pe­cially ag­gres­sive this time of year, per­haps be­cause they don’t have long to live.

“They are on a time limit,” Bry­er­ton said.

“They will die when the first hard frost hits.”

Bees, on the other hand, over­win­ter in their nests.

What can you do to avoid be­ing has­sled by fly­ing jerks look­ing to live large in the fewweeks they have left?

Bry­er­ton suggested keep­ing food and drinks sealed or cov­ered as much as pos­si­ble.

“To start with, make sure the area you are pic­nick­ing in is clean,” he said. “Make sure there are no food scraps or open garbage con­tain­ers that will at­tract yel­low­jack­ets.”

And it helps to not look like a flower.

“In­sects in gen­eral seem to be at­tracted to the color yel­low,” Bry­er­ton said.

There also are traps you can buy or make that can has­ten their demise. To make one, sim­ply cut the top off a plas­tic pop bot­tle, leave some soda at the bot­tom, and place the in­verted top back on the bot­tle. The bugs have a hard time es­cap­ing, and even­tu­ally drown.

While that may of­fer some sat­is­fac­tion in a venge­ful sense, Bry­er­ton wasn’t cer­tain the traps are an ef­fec­tive preven­tion mea­sure.

“It’s de­bat­able,” he said, if the traps make enough of a dent in the lo­cal pop­u­la­tion or sim­ply at­tract more wasps to the vicin­ity.

“It’s prob­a­bly best to use mul­ti­ple strate­gies to keep them away,” he said. “You could set up a trap or feed­ing area away fromy­our pic­nic that uses the color yel­low, keep your food and drinks cov­ered and try to use con­tain­ers that don’t have any yel­low on them.”

It’s hard to like those fly­ing jerks at this time of year, but they’re not en­tirely bad, Bry­er­ton said.

“Yel­low­jack­ets eat gar­den pests and are an im­por­tant part of the en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

Still, their late-sea­son an­tics are one rea­son to look for­ward to the im­pend­ing cold of win­ter, which also will kill my other out­door en­emy— the mos­qui­toes.

Bring it on.


Yel­low­jack­ets’ wide diet at­tracts them to ur­ban ar­eas be­cause a lot of what we eat and throw away is food to them, mak­ing them un­wel­come vis­i­tors at out­door events.

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