Yellow Jackets

In summer and fall we head outside for tailgating and outdoor festivals. Some unwanted guests come all dressed up in black and yellow. Yellow jackets are in the bee and wasp family. The yellow jacket's ability to repeatedly sting makes them a considerable health threat. Yellow jackets alone are responsible for about 1/2 of all human insect stings.

Recognizing Yellow Jackets
Yellow jackets are commonly confused with honeybees. They are the same size about a 1/2-inch long, but yellow jackets are more brightly colored with definite yellow and black stripes and very little hair. Honeybees are more honey colored and covered with fuzzy hair.

Yellow Jacket Nests
Yellow jackets live in underground nests in old rodent burrows, in woodpile, piles of brush, compost piles or hollow trees. In late summer the yellow jackets nest may contain several thousand wasps. New nests are started each spring.

Areas that Attract Yellow Jackets
yellow jacket are attracted to areas with sweet food such as picnic areas and ice cream stands. Open cans of garbage or unclean garbage cans are the biggest yellow jacket attractants. Also areas of rotting fruit such as around apple trees can produce high populations of yellow jackets. Since yellow jackets often crawl into soda cans unnoticed, people are frequently stung on the lips.

Avoiding Yellow Jackets
Ways to avoid yellow jackets include not wearing perfumes or other scents including scented hair spray or deodorants. Avoid wearing brightly colored and patterned clothing. Don't go barefoot and when outdoors, drink from cups with lids.

Avoid swatting or squishing yellow jackets. Squashing a yellow jacket releases a chemical that signals other wasps in the area to attack. The worst reaction is the chaotic sequence of flailing arms and the swatting of the offending yellow jacket. Just remember in the Tarzan movies when the lion bait was the guy that went into the jungle screaming.

A yellow jacket will not bite or sting a person unless they or their nests are agitated by fast movements, stepped on or heaven forbid sat on. However they may land on your skin to take a drink of sweat or inspect a smell. Just be patient and they will fly away or lure them away with a bit of your food. If you can't be that patient, very gently brush them off with a piece of paper with slow deliberate movements. The same method should be used if a yellow jacket makes its way into your car.

Drawing Yellow Jackets Away
Yellow jacket traps can be useful. Sometimes just putting a little meat or fruit in a dish far from your activities is enough to draw them away. However, keeping garbage cans clean and covered, keeping outdoor food areas clean and removing rotting fruit is still necessary to keep yellow jacket in check.

Controlling Yellow Jacket Nests
A yellow jacket nest around the home requires additional control measures. Remember that bees and wasps are important pollinators so indiscriminate destruction of their nests should be avoided.

Yellow jackets, like other wasps and bees, are active during the day. Control measures should therefore be conducted at dusk or dawn without a flashlight. If you must use a flashlight, cover the lens with red plastic so they won't be attracted to the light.

Yellow jackets can be controlled with wasp and hornet sprays containing mint oil, permethrin, tetramethrin, or tralomethrin. Be sure to read and follow all label directions.

Underground Nests
Underground nests can be controlled with permethrin. Immediately after application shovel some soil down the hole and then run fast, run far.

Aboveground Nests
Aboveground nests can be dusted with carbaryl (Sevin) pesticide to coat the opening, the insecticide should not clog the nest.Read and follow all the label directions. The dust can also be placed on a small piece of steel wool or cotton to surround the hole. As the yellow jackets go in and out they get the pesticide on their bodies as they groom, they ingest the pesticide. The nests should be killed in about 5 days.