I’m not fond of yellow jackets. I don’t know anyone who is, though they are considered a beneficial insect because they pollinate.
Here is a sweet little honey bee. Look at that fuzz, those intelligent looking eyes! Even though she’s capable of stinging, you know she’d rather just get on with her work.
Now look at this dying yellow jacket. Even in the throes of death after being zapped with my handheld bug zapper (and, no, I do not feel the slightest bit guilty), she was still trying to sting.
Not only are yellow jackets capable of stinging (multiple times, unlike a bee), they also bite. So says Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor at the University of Vermont.
Becoming a beekeeper has made me dislike them even more. These shiny-bodied menaces will raid beehives. And they are omnivores (some say carnivores), so they not only rob all the honey, they also eat the larvae and bees. (If you want, you can find videos of this on YouTube. I couldn’t stand to look.)
Nasty(!) and more than a bit unnerving since The Engineer and I began to see yellow jackets snooping around the ground by our hive shortly before leaving for Oshkosh. We’ve even seen them trying to drag away bees that were inadvertently squashed by our clumsiness in replacing boxes after an inspection. (I doubt you can imagine how awful we feel when this happens.)
I did some research, and the more I learned, the more concerned I became for our hive during our absence. It turns out the late summer dearth (when food becomes less available for the would-be robbers and bees) is the most common time for hive robbing. And a newly established beehive like ours could be an enticing target.
A strong hive is less tempting, so we made sure to leave plenty of sugar water for our girls, and hung a few commercial traps around the yard, well away from the hive. (We had practiced due diligence in the spring and put out homemade ones to catch the queens, but had no luck.) Additionally, we’d planned to put in the entrance reducer before leaving but reached Illinois before realizing we’d forgotten.
Perhaps you can imagine our relief when we returned home to find our bees still busily working and the traps holding some dead and very annoyed yellow jackets.
Unfortunately, there are still yellow jackets cruising around. Since they always come from the growth nearby, we think it likely they have at least one nest in the ground there.
Knowing this, I’m ignoring my aversion to using chemicals in our home and yard, and tonight attempted to deploy the “nuclear option” mentioned in this article from the Natrona County Beekeepers’ Association wiki.
I’ll let you know how it works.
In the interest of fairness, I should mention honey bees will also raid other hives to steal honey. Here’s a blog post that discusses when, why, and how this happens.
If you’d like more straightforward information on the difference between bees, yellow jackets, and other stinging insects, read “All About Yellow Jackets, Bees, and Their Kin” at Gardeners.com.