They Got Me!

— Written By and last updated by Judy Moore
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I am claiming victim status, and this article is my vengeance. Yellowjackets have staked a claim in my front landscape bed, and are real meanies! They hurt my feelings, my arm, my stomach, and my left ring finger. That’s right; three stings in one afternoon. One was inside my shirt when she stung me. That was a first for me, and I danced and flailed, and made a shirtless fool of myself with reckless abandon in the great outdoors. No one saw me; I hope.

Now, before I get wound up… since I work for NC State University, I am obligated to tell you that yellowjackets actually do some good in this world. They attack insects that would damage crops and ornamental plants in your garden, and use them to feed their own young. They can eat house flies and others too. Actually, If they are not in a place that is a threat to humans, you should let them be.

Ok…Now that I have been good and written the obligatory nice things about these beneficial insects, I can turn my attention back to vengeance.

When yellowjackets choose a nesting spot too near to me (or you) they can become a hazard, and we can then classify them as pests. If you get near to them (usually a surprise to us) or disturb their nest, they can get all fussy and aggressive. There can be 3,000 in a fully healthy nest, and each one can sting more than once when a bunch of them come swarming out after you! The sting is painful immediately, and the soreness, swelling and itching can last for days. Without prompt medical attention, allergies and hypersensitivity to stings can even be fatal.

Yellowjackets are attracted to sugar sources, including ripe fruit, nectar, and drink cans. They also go for protein sources, which is why sandwiches, or deviled eggs are so popular with them as they share your picnic. Fortunately, when yellow jackets are just out and about and joining you socially for a snack, they are not so aggressive as when defending their nest. So, in that situation, as long as you don’t start annoying, or swatting, or trying to grab, drink, or eat one, they will more or less coexist with you.

Now that you know a little more about these insects, it is time to do something about them. First, you really need to watch and identify the hole where the wasps are coming from. Yellowjackets nest in the ground, and the opening is often somewhat hidden under landscape timber or some other obstruction. They also, less frequently, nest in the ground right out in the open. Those open ones in the lawn are the ones that will get you in trouble when you are just innocently mowing the grass.

The time to make your sneak attack is at night when the wasps are inside and are more-or-less calm. I say more-or-less, because if you disturb them, they can still jump into action. You need to be cautious, have an escape route planned and open, and get the job done quickly. And wear the most protective clothing you have around to cover your skin as much as possible…just in case. Your mission is a little like a knight slaying a dragon in his cave without getting singed, so a little body armor such as a jacket/etc. may be smart.

A slow, but sure-fire way to knock out a yellowjacket colony is with 5% Sevin dust. Dust the entrance liberally with 5 % Sevin dust (maybe two teaspoons). The next day as the workers go in and out, they pick up the dust and track it into the nest. That nest should die out in a day or two (although new adults may emerge from developing pupae for a few days thereafter). I hesitate to use this method personally, because it does put me right there at the entrance to the nest. Remember, I am still sore from my most recent “three sting” encounter with these beasts, and I would prefer to stand back a bit further.

My preferred approach is to use a common home or garden center type of bee and wasp spray, that shoots out 10 to 15 feet or more. Stand back, and direct a good dose into the nest entrance. I have personally found that the new foaming types may not penetrate the nest as effectively down the hole as the liquid stream does, and therefore have been a bit less effective. You might have better luck than I have had, however.

It is very important to not pour gasoline or other fire accelerant down a nest hole. Remember, you want to kill yellowjackets, not you, the environment, or surrounding plants!

I think that this has been therapeutic for me. Telling a few people how to wipe out yellowjacket colonies is quite satisfying, really. But maybe I have overreacted a little to being stung. Maybe I should not enlist everyone in the county to avenge my suffering. Maybe I shouldn’t put this article out to the world, and I should just forgive and forget…

Nah…. not this time. Those stings really hurt!!