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John Fulton


John Fulton
Former County Extension Director



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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis

Yellow Jackets - From David Robson

Posted by John Fulton -

If you have "bees" going in and out of the wall of your house, you probably have yellow jackets. Yellow jackets are elongated, about an inch long, and are black with yellow markings showing as stripes on the abdomen. These wasps construct large paper nests underground, in wall voids and in other protected places. They contain several horizontal combs and several thousands individuals.

All members of the nest, except the queen die during the winter, and fertilized females that overwinter in protected places start new ones each summer, states David Robson, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator, Springfield Center. The young yellow jackets (larvae) feed on insects and other bits of meat that the adults capture or scavenge from garbage cans, picnics or other areas where food is left uncovered. The adults chew up the insects or other meat and feed this partially digested food to the larvae. Adults feed on nectar and the juices of the larval food. Elimination of nests is best done at night when the yellow jackets are less active. Be sure to wear protective clothing in order to minimize exposed skin to possible stings. Underground nests will usually have a single opening that the wasps use to enter and leave the nest. Ground nests can be treated by soaking the nest opening with a recommended insecticide. Seal the opening with soil immediately after spraying. Wall void nests are frequently several feet from the wall opening that wasps use to enter and leave the nest. Thus, direct insecticide spraying involves the removal of part of the wall. These wall void nests can also be killed by placing an insecticide dust in and around the wall opening. The yellow jackets pick up this dust on their bodies, groom themselves with their mouthparts and feed each other in the nest. Frequently, the insecticide dust must be reapplied up to four times over a two- week period. Once the wasps have been killed, a few more may emerge from cocoons over the next few days, but these are likely to encounter the insecticide dust and die also. Since the source of reproduction—the queen—has been killed, no more young will be produced. After two weeks have passed with no wasp activity near the nest opening, the hole may be sealed. Caution! Do not confuse yellow jackets with bald-faced hornets, bees and beneficial wasps. These insects are considered friends of man because they feed flies and other harmful insects to their young and pollinate plants in the process of gathering nectar to feed them. Their nests should be allowed to survive in most situations. If a person stays at least 3 or 4 feet away from the nest, hornets will usually not attack. Lawn work and other necessary activities close to the nest should be done late in the evening, when hornets are less active. Rarely will hornets sting while foraging for food.


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