Keep pests from spoiling your summer picnics
Sunny days, blue skies and flowers mark the arrival of summer days, as does the buzzing of yellow jackets and other wasps. These helpful insects feast on harmful pests such as caterpillars and houseflies and tend toward aggressive behavior only when they feel threatened. Toward the end of summer, however, their numbers swell and their never-ending quest for sugar and sweets often brings them in contact with picnickers, gardeners and children at play. There are a number of steps you can take to minimize contact with these insects and several different methods for eliminating them if the need arises. Keep the following questions in mind as you plan your wasp-control strategy:
Life Cycle, Elimination and Precautions
Yellow jackets, hornets, umbrella wasps and paper wasps are known as "social wasps" not for their proclivity for hanging around the picnic table at meal time, but rather because they live in colonies. While sprays and traps can prove effective in eliminating these pests, avoiding confrontation is often a safer and easier solution. Inevitably, you or a family member may be stung, so knowing how to best treat bites and stings will help ease the pain and make you less hesitant to head back outside to finish enjoying your fruit salad on the back porch.
Life Cycle: Social wasp colonies begin with the efforts of a single individual -- the queen. Queens can be up to three times larger than worker wasps and drones. Full of eggs at the end of the summer, queens find a suitable place for hibernation while other wasps die off as the cold weather approaches. In the spring, the queen emerges and selects a site for the new colony, laying the groundwork all by herself. Once this is done, she begins to lay her eggs. The population quickly grows, reaching its peak late in the summer. It is at that point that the workers seek out sweet, sugary foods to power the colony's frenetic activity.
Eliminating Wasps and Nests: The late summer population surge and search for sweets often leads wasps to come into contact with humans, particularly humans with soda, candy, fruit and other appealing items laid out conveniently on a picnic table. While occasional encounters are to be expected, frequent run-ins can prove uncomfortable and even dangerous for individuals with allergies to stings. Insecticide sprays can be used to kill individual wasps who linger around outdoor living areas. For more numerous populations, install a properly baited trap downwind of your picnic or outdoor living area. If you want to remove a nest, use utmost caution and consult a professional if it's located inside your house or in the ground. For easily accessible nests, be sure to protect yourself completely before approaching, taking special care to shield your eyes and face.
Precautions: If possible, avoid confrontations with wasps. Do not go near nests unless absolutely necessary. When left alone, wasps generally don't cause problems. If, however, one is near you or lands on you, remain still. Brush them off your body rather than attempting to smash them, as smashed wasps release a pheromone that may induce other nearby wasps to attack. If you plan to spend any length of time in an area you know wasps to inhabit, avoid wearing perfume or scented hair care products. Wasps are drawn to the scents they give off, just as they are to brightly colored clothes, particularly those with floral patterns.
Treating Stings: Unlike bees, wasps don't easily lose their stinger and can repeatedly attack when they feel threatened. Many types of wasps are highly aggressive and will act together to defend perceived threats to their nest. While a sting can be unpleasant, for those who experience allergic reactions it can be extremely dangerous. The chart below details some of the symptoms, both minor and serious, of wasp stings as well as the steps you can take to treat them. If you or someone else experience symptoms of an allergic reaction, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.
Traps: Traps can range from simple to elaborate, with everything from jam to meat as bait. You can create one on your own using an empty two-liter bottle by cutting off the top, inverting it and taping it into place over the bottom half. Then, bait the interior and fill it with water. You can also purchase several different varieties of traps and bait to go along with them.
Multipurpose Spray: Keeping a bottle of spray insecticide handy not only helps take care of wasps, but it will often handle other flying pests, such as bees, houseflies and horseflies. You can also use sprays to attack wasp nests, but take care in doing so. As soon as the wasps begin to emerge, cease spraying and walk, don't run, away. Continue daily spraying until no more wasps appear.
Birdfeeder Guards: If wasps are constantly swarming around your hummingbird feeder and keeping the birds away, install a guard to keep the wasps at bay so the birds can come in and feed without being attacked.
If you put out a trap to catch wasps, make sure you have plenty of extra bait on hand to trap as many as possible, and remember to put the trap out early in the season to lure queens.