Wasps arriving, but they’ll soon be gone
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.