Yellow Jackets!

image_8Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat

Sunday August 17, 2014

Photos by Kathy Kinsey

By Kathy Kinsey

Yellow Jackets! The mere mention of the word conjures up painful memories for some of us. How can something so small leave you with so much pain – a pain that can last for hours? And when you are stung, your first thought is how best to get rid of them – well maybe this is not your first thought!

Though thought to be a hornet, Yellow Jackets are considered wasps. They both build their nests from chewed up wood or paper. Hornets have a much larger body and can also sting repeatedly. But hornets always build their nests above ground which can be found in trees, shrubs and even under the eaves of your house. I have noticed them around my hummingbird feeders while I am no more than 5 feet away from one of them. I see them on my greenhouse constantly. Between them and all the wasps, I may not have a greenhouse one day! But don’t panic if you see one for there is an ingenious way to get rid of them. Use any old spray bottle and fill it with water until it is about 2 inches from the top and then add about 2 to 3 tablespoons of dish detergent. I know it sounds like a lot of soap but what you want to do is get it so soapy flight is no longer an option. But make sure you keep spraying until it falls to the ground. Then it is at your mercy. It will eventually die if you prefer not to mess with it but I do suggest you remove it so no barefooted person or pet can step on it. I have noticed most insects seem to die with their stingers exposed. I have a chimnea on my back patio, which is an outdoor fire pit, so when one gets done in, that is where it goes.

Now if you see several, you may want to spend some time looking around the eaves of your house for they may be building a nest. Wait until night to take care of the nest but you may want to get a gallon size sprayer. Guinea wasps are always building nests on the eaves of my house but that is whole other story. I have learned soapy water will bring any insect that flies down to the ground.

Yellow Jackets have an amazing talent for building their nest underground. And these are not limited to rural areas. If the ground is too wet, they simply build on top of the ground. Though beneficial, they can be problematic if you have allergies to bee stings. Having had the unfortunate experience of being their victim one day last September, I can tell you mowing over their nest will really make them mad. As with most wasps, Yellow Jackets are near the nest at night and are ready to defend any intrusion into the area where they have built their nest. The entrance to their nest is very small, only about 1 – 1 ½ inches in diameter.

Fertilized queens are found in protected places such as hollow logs, stumps, under bark, leaf litter and man-made structures. Queens emerge during the warmth of the day in late spring or early summer, select a nest site and build a small paper nest in which they lay eggs. Once the eggs hatch, she tends to them all by herself. When the larvae become adult workers, they start building the nest in layers, one on top of the other. Though these nests can become quite large with multiple queens, most have a single queen and seldom exceed 15,000 workers. Yellow Jackets are more active during the fall time of the year when the colony has grown quite large. They are able to sting repeatedly with absolutely no remorse!

After being stung five times, I sought medical help over the phone. I could not for the life of me remember if you put cold water or hot water on a sting. The most I had ever been stung by any type of flying insect was once or twice. You simply need to ice the area down and take some Benadryl and pray for relief. Nine long hours later, I was able to walk again. But as I have no allergies to bee stings, I knew I would be able to get through it but this is not the case for everyone. Seek immediate help if you have chills, a fever, joint or muscle pain or it becomes difficult to breathe. I have read some articles that suggest seeking help if you are stung 10 or more times. Please watch out for your children. I honestly can’t imagine a child enduring one of these stings.

In looking back on that day, I feel I have learned a few things. First, walk around before you mow just to make sure there is no bee activity near the ground. Make sure you wear shoes doing this. If you see a nest, make a mental note of where it is and quietly walk away from the area. Don’t run….walk softly as any vibration will cause them to stir. There are a few suggestions on the IFAS website on ridding your property of them. Pesticides, dust, soapy water, the bee spray that shoots out 20 feet, even hot boiling water, but if you have allergies, I recommend you call a professional to handle this problem. Avoid the use of gasoline as it contaminates the soil and possibly our water, it is harmful to children and the environment – no Yellow Jacket nest will ever do this much damage to the ground. Any attempt to rid your property of a Yellow Jacket nest should be done at night as the cooler temperatures cause them to be somewhat sluggish. Make sure you cover yourself completely before taking on this challenge. The following day, if you decide to remove the nest from the ground, make sure you wear gloves and start digging. It truly is a thing of art. The nest will eventually fall apart and disintegrate so if you live in the city, you may just want to leave it alone.

Secondly, wear shoes and long pants if you are going to mow in the latter part of the day. When you can no longer see the ground, it is time to stop mowing. Nests can be disturbed by any vibration near the area and if it has been disturbed previously, simply being near the nest will provoke an attack. Due to cooler temperatures, their activities diminish at night but they will still defend the nest vigorously if disturbed.

I have learned to respect them in other ways, too. They control insects (mostly caterpillars) that feast on the vegetables I grow so they do provide a service and are rarely hostile during the day when they are away from the nest. However, if provoked in any way, they will sting you. Just the other day, I walked by the back door to my greenhouse and I noticed a small black and yellow wasp gathering some wood which tells me there are Yellow Jackets building yet another nest on the property again this year. But as I looked back at it, it turned as if to threaten my very existence. And though I have respect for them and all they do, I also remember the pain they inflicted on me that September day last year and all those hours I had to keep my foot on ice.

I simply took my shoe off and let him have it!

Kathy Kinsey is a Master Gardener and volunteer writer for Leon County UF/IFAS Extension. For more information about Yellow Jackets or gardening in our area, visit our website at . You may also email us at with any gardening questions you may have.




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Posted: August 17, 2014

Category: Natural Resources, Wildlife
Tags: Allergies, Bee Stings, Hornets, July-September 2014, Wasps

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