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Thoughts from the Cottage…

Social Stingers?

Aug 2016

I believe that hornets, wasps and yellow jackets are the jerks of the insect kingdom. These stinging, flying wasps ruin countless picnics with their aggressive appetite for sweets. They sting thousands of Americans every year, killing some people through anaphylactic shock. Jerks, right?  What’s up with hornets and yellow jackets that makes them so vicious in late summer? Is it just me or is there a bumper crop this year? My summer research project…

Entomologist's say the mild winter and warm spring were good for wasps. More females survived winter hibernation and were able to start new colonies, which grew through the summer (don’t I know that). Many of the hornet and yellow jacket species that sting us are social insects. Unlike solitary insects such as carpenter bees, social insects live in colonies, where hordes of sterile female workers tend to their younger sisters and fertile mother. These social insects do everything for the good of the colony. And yes, I know that wasps are important to the ecosystem as predators that kill other insects. Wasps should be our friends when it comes to pest control but their numbers this summer are turning them into big pest. I appreciate what they do in nature but they’re really annoying this year!

Social???

Time to share the summer harvest…

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Garden fresh kale  - wash and chop...

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Sculpt a birdbath…..

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Things change for these communal, defense-minded flying jerks when the queen lays her final broods, which mature into fertile kings and queens that fly away to eventually form their own colonies. Once those fertile siblings leave the nest in late summer and early fall, their left-behind sisters no longer must spend time defending the colony and hunting for food for the young. They only need to worry about defending themselves and eating what they want—which is why August and September have the most yellow jacket stings. And as adults, they just want sugary foods that give them a quick boost of energy. Sugary foods like ice cream, soda—and fallen fruit that is fermenting. These workers have devoted their brief lives to serving queen and colony, and they will all die of cold and old age by Thanksgiving. Only the freshly mated queens will survive the winter huddled behind house siding and beneath rotting logs, waiting until spring returns to start the whole cycle anew.


Since I can’t wait for the icy hand of death to squash these stinging picnic thieves, here’s some advice on how to avoid their sharp, venomous ends. Keep an eye out for their nests, which are often in inconspicuous places like holes in the yard, under the eaves of houses and in bushes. Avoiding flowery-smelling perfumes and not waving your arms frantically when you see one. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends keeping food and garbage in tightly sealed containers. To eradicate the wasps you have to kill the queen but please use caution when approaching the nest (Five in the morning is the best time.) Carefully read the instructions on bug sprays. Most importantly, being prepared to flee if multiple insects start attacking. This may require a lot of running because they’ll follow you a lot longer than honeybees. They’ll also sting you a lot more than honeybees, thanks to their smooth, venomous stinger, which doesn’t get stuck in your tender flesh after one thrust like the bee’s barbed stinger.


While you’re fleeing, bear in mind that this is only temporary. Unlike us road-raging, text-trolling, lion-shooting humans, hornets and yellow jackets are only jerks for part of the year.

…what did you do this summer?