Summer yellowjackets

If summer hasn’t already arrived, it will soon.

One of the true joys of summer, unless you abstain from meat, is the barbecue.  Setting in the shade watching the kids run through the sprinkler is a great way to spend an afternoon.  At least until the neighbors drop by uninvited.

Now I’m not talking about the friendly ones in the house next door.  I’m taking about the grumpy aggressive wasps that fly over the fence and want to fight you for possession of your chicken wing or soda.

Most of us have survived a bee or wasp sting at least once in our lives but allergic reactions kill about 100 people in America each year and send many more to the emergency room. The problem is that even if you have survived a sting in the past there is no way to know if you have developed an allergy as a result.

Here in western Washington there are several species of wasp. They are all after the same things, protein for the developing young back in the nest and nectar (sugar) for the high octane fuel to fly.

So, that rib slathered in barbecue sauce is worth fighting for.  Since the average soda has about 9 teaspoons of sugar in it, that’s fair game too.

Wasps come well armed for the task of raiding your picnic.

First there is the stinger loaded with painful venom. 

Because they are predators of other insects that stinger is designed to be used over and over, and they can do the same thing to you.

Another hidden weapon they have is the ability to call for backup if you fight back.  You want to avoid smashing or swatting a wasp because it will release an alarm pheromone (scent) that will attract other wasps.  If you get it on you, and they can mark you with it, you can become the target of other members of their colony.  This can be particularly dangerous if their nest is close by. 

The best way to avoid summer yellowjacket stings is to keep your wits about you.  Before you set out to mow the lawn or barbecue or share a drink with the neighbors take a few minutes to check your property for nests.  Many of these are revealed by flights of wasps that are visible from a distance going to and from the entrance of the nest.  Sometimes they’re going to be in the ground.  Other times they’re going to be in the soffit of the roof or underside of the deck.  A quick look can save you from testing your track and field skills.  

If you find a nest, have it treated.  Just remember, if you are going to attempt to treat it yourself, by late spring you could be facing a couple hundred aggressively motivated insects.  If you’re serving beverages, pour them into transparent glasses to avoid getting stung by a visiting wasp going after the sweets. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control banana scents are particularly attractive to wasps. Avoid floral perfumes and brightly colored clothing which can attract them. If wasps are active but not coming from your property you can put out wasp traps a few days ahead of an event to reduce their numbers.

Well, with that advice it looks like it’s time for me to throw a carrot on the grill.■

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