One of the last things a homeowner wants to deal with is pests, from nuisance types to damaging critters that can cost you hundreds, or even potentially thousands, of dollars. The list of potential pests is as long as your arm, but there’s nothing that strikes fear into your summer afternoon quite like the hum and buzz of yellow jackets.
They are marked by a distinctive yellow and black striped head and thorax and an aggressive, protective nature that is unlike wasps or honey bees.
Once you see one of them floating around your backyard picnic it’s only a matter of time until you’re facing an infestation, which can potentially be a huge headache. The good news is that there is hope, and a wide range of options to help you cope with these nuisance pests and prevent them from becoming an even bigger problem.
Quick Overview – Yellow Jackets
The first step is understanding exactly what you’re dealing with. Yellow jackets are insects, similar to bees but with a few key differences.
Their stingers are smooth, which means that they are able to sting repeatedly. Although a single sting is generally not dangerous, people with an allergy can be put in serious danger. Also, riling up a yellow jacket nest can be extremely dangerous, as the workers can swarm and sting the intruder multiple times, injecting large quantities of venom into their system. This is one of the main reasons that you’ll want to take care of any potential nests before they become infestations.
They also have a wider diet than common honey bees, preferring sugary foods and nectar from flowers but are also adaptable enough to eat meat, garbage, and picnic food that’s left outside. Yellow jacket’s wide diets attract them to human habitation because so much of what we eat and throw away is food to them.
Yellow Jacket Nests – Home, Lawn, Garden
Because of their diet, nesting habits and nuisance status when they move in, it’s very natural to want to get rid of yellow jackets in the quickest, safest way possible. It’s important that the solution you choose is safe for your home, your lawn or garden, and the people and pets who share your roof, as well as effective.
It’s important to be aware that yellow jackets often set up multiple colonies and infest a residence. Yellow jackets are known to seek dark, secluded areas in a house’s walls or foundation, which can make their nests very difficult to get at. These insects will commonly build nests underground, or under debris or any other structure that provides them with a secluded area that is protected from the elements and intrusion.
Common hiding places include old, rotted logs, cracks or holes in the ground or pavement, under steps or porches on a house, and even near the base of trees. This can mean several hiding places, and several potential nests, on your property. Keep in mind that an underground nest can even be disturbed by the vibrations of footsteps, power mowers or bouncing balls (such as a basketball or tennis court). Nothing can bring a family picnic to a screeching halt like a cloud of angry yellow jackets swarming out from under the porch after a soccer ball gets kicked back there accidentally!
Yellow Jacket Stings – Treatment
Yellow jacket stings can be very painful, and the fact that they can sting you multiple times without their stinger pulling out means that you’re likely to be stung more than once, even by a single insect. If you’re aware of a previous allergy to bee stings, or you have several allergies, watch closely for any difficulty breathing, hives, or intense swelling. Even if you are stung, you only have a 50/50 chance of developing a severe reaction if you are allergic, but be cautious all the same.
Consider carrying an EpiPen around with you if you have known or suspected allergies to bee stings. This can make the difference between a severe or even fatal sting reaction.
However, if you aren’t allergic, you can easily treat the sting site with a cold compress, such as an ice pack, cold wash cloth or even a bag of frozen vegetables if you don’t have anything else handy.
You can also take some Benadryl or other antihistamine to avoid any further swelling or mild allergic reaction to the sting, if you feel it’s necessary. Watch the sting closely for developing hives, and make sure that those around you are aware that you’ve been stung, in case you develop any difficulty breathing.
If hives do develop, or you experience difficulty breathing and swallowing, you should immediately seek emergency medical assistance, as there is a good possibility that you are allergic to bee stings, and will need medical treatment to prevent the attack from worsening.
That said, the vast majority of people will not develop serious reactions, and a sting doesn’t have to ruin your picnic. Above all, remember to keep calm! Getting excited or upset can lead to the nest being further antagonized, and could cause the yellow jackets to swarm your gathering, as they are notoriously defensive of their home.
If you do get a swarm of yellow jackets at your next family gathering gather your things as calmly as possible and head indoors, taking care to avoid letting them in along with you. After the sun has gone down you may want to head out and see if you can locate the nest, which we’ll talk about next.
So how do you tell if you have an infestation on your hands? Often times you will see lone workers buzzing around common food sources. This is usually flower beds or gardens in the early summer or late spring, and can include garbage cans, dumpsters, bird feeders (especially the sugar water in hummingbird feeders) and anywhere food is outdoors, such as picnics, food trucks, or even compost piles.
Once you see a single yellow jacket, you can bet that there’s a nest nearby. Make sure that you distinguish a yellow jacket from a traditional honey bee though, as honey bees are very beneficial insects, and are not nearly as aggressive as yellow jackets. Yellow jackets are much less hairy than bees, although they share a similar yellow and black marking pattern, which can help differentiate them from other types of wasps. Also, honey bees don’t generally frequent food sources that don’t include sugars or pollens.
Once you’ve identified the yellow jacket, you’ll want to try to safely locate the nearby nest and check for additional colonies in the area. Take care when looking for the nests, as alerting the nest to your presence can cause them to consider you a threat and swarm. Try to determine where the yellow jacket returns once it’s done feeding, or if that’s not possible, look for potential hiding spots. Remember that they prefer the dark and seclusion, although they will sometimes build aerial nests on tree limbs, bushes or under the eaves of a house. Often they will want to build near to a food source, so check around flowerbeds, garbage cans and any other open source of food.
Once you locate the nest, keep your distance and try to judge how big it is. Often new nests are small little honey comb structures, usually an inch or less across the surface, with several visible openings. Larger nests will be about the size of a closed fist, and often be orbited by several workers or guards, whereas smaller nests are often not built up fully and have smaller colony populations.
Yellow jacket nests that are underground can be very difficult to spot, so walk carefully, listen closely for buzzing sounds, and be ready to beat a retreat if you stumble over the nest on accident. After you locate the nest and judge it’s relative size and activity, it’s time to decide how you want to deal with the colony.
Best Method to Kill Yellow Jackets
The most traditional method of dealing with wasps on your own is a can of Raid or similar bug spray. If you find a single nest on your property, and it’s in an area where you can quickly seek shelter from any yellow jackets that don’t get sprayed, you can use a can of bug spray and blast it from a safe distance; usually the maximum range that the spray will reach.
Another important thing to keep in mind is to have all people and pets avoid the area until the spray has settled and dried out. Some sprays are formulated to be non-toxic to plant life, but most will damage any living organisms they land on, so before taking this option make sure that the area is clear and secure. There’s also the very real danger of stings and swarming if you take them on without an effective retreat strategy, so make sure you have a safe place to get away from any stragglers.
Finally, make sure that you wear protective clothing (long sleeves, hats, masks, anything to cover your skin and face) and only try to interact with a hive at dusk, when the yellow jackets are least active. This will greatly increase your safety and help cut down on the chance of getting stung or even swarmed.
Killing Yellow Jackets Naturally
If you’re looking for a more natural, earth friendly remedy to yellow jackets, consider buying or even making your own natural wasp killer. These remedies will kill yellow jackets and destroy the hive without putting down any poisonous chemicals.
You can use mint oil, which is deadly to wasps, and hot or boiling water combined in a spray bottle. After the sun goes down, approach the nest and spray it down, making sure that it’s misting enough to cover the nest and any loose yellow jackets, but strong enough to allow you to remain at a safe distance. Here’s a great recipe for your own homemade yellow jacket killer, and a first hand account of it’s effects.
As with the commercial sprays, make sure that you cover any exposed skin, and make sure you have a place to retreat to that won’t allow them to follow you.
Video Tutorial: Yellow Jacket Shop Vacuum Removal Method
Cost of Professional Extermination
You may also choose to hire a professional service to handle a nest or infestation for you. This can be especially helpful if you have more than one nest, or they’ve burrowed into or under your home. As an added bonus, professional services and exterminators have experience dealing with all types of infestations, and can even keep an eye out for any other pest animals that may be affecting your home.
Since yellow jackets are considered helpful insects that pollinate flowers and eat destructive grubs and beetles, exterminators will be hesitant to destroy a colony unless it poses a direct stinging threat to humans or animals, so keep this in mind when seeking out the services of a professional, as well as when evaluating a nest on your own. Professionals are also adept at dealing with underground nests of yellow jackets, which can pose it’s own unique challenges and dangers.
You can usually find several local options with a quick search online, or you can call a national chain to come evaluate your property and offer you some solutions. Be sure to inquire about their fees and see if you can schedule a free in-home estimate of the size of any infestation and the potential cost of removing it.
Just like finding a good plumber or electrician, make sure you work with someone you trust to take care of your home and family, and who will deal honestly with you. An average job of sealing and removing as well as killing the yellow jackets can run from between $70 to $350, or more depending on your specific situation and area. Make sure that you get a quote up front before you are charged for services, and don’t be afraid to shop around for the best price and service.
Remember that you have options, and don’t be afraid to check them out!
Dealing with yellow jackets can be a tough situation, they are uniquely scary insects due to their aggressive behaviors around their nests and the fact that they can sting multiple times without slowing down. Hopefully now you’ve got a little more confidence, and a little more information in dealing with this airborne pest.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that while they are scary, yellow jackets are often more of a nuisance than a threat, and if it’s at all possible, adopting a live and let live attitude will help you avoid the hassle and potential cost of eliminating a nest. However, if they are too close to your home, garden or gathering place, you have some options in how you want to remove them. By now you should have some useful tools to help you safely and effectively deal with the situation, so remember to stay calm, and enjoy your summer!