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Skaggs: Yellow jackets no laughing matter

POSTED: July 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The last few weeks at the Extension office have been filled with talk of yellow jackets - and not those who frequent Bobby Dodd Stadium in the fall. As a loyal member of the Bulldog Nation, I occasionally have a little fun with folks who ask me how to control yellow jackets. When asked, I'm always tempted to reference coach Mark Richt and the beloved Georgia Bulldogs. However, yellow jackets are no laughing matter.

While hard to believe, yellow jackets are considered beneficial around home gardens and commercially grown fruits and vegetables at certain times of the year because they feed abundantly on insect pests, such as caterpillars and harmful flies. Unfortunately, in late summer and early fall when their populations peak, the yellow jackets' normal insect diet disappears and their feeding habits become a problem to man.

At this time of year, the yellow jacket has an appetite for many of the staples of our diet. The diet of adult yellow jackets consists mainly of foods rich in sugars and carbohydrates, such as plant nectar and fruit. Also, foraging adults search for meat that is high in protein, such as insects and fish.

Late-season foods include carbonated beverages, juices, candy, ham, bologna, fish, cakes, fruit, vegetables and ice cream. Large numbers of these pesky insects can totally disrupt a picnic and are often a nuisance around homes and outside restaurants. One question I'd like answered is "Do yellow jackets prefer Coke or Pepsi?"

More importantly, yellow jacket stings can result in a life-threatening situation, especially if the person is allergic to yellow jacket venom. Being highly allergic, I am very familiar with the perils of multiple yellow jacket stings.

While camping or cooking out, frequent removal of garbage and other waste products around picnic sites will reduce problems with yellow jackets. All food and beverage containers should be covered until served. Open soda containers should be checked prior to consumption. Live yellow jackets have been swallowed by people, resulting in a life-threatening sting in the throat area.

To control underground nests, insecticidal dust such Sevin or Permethrin can be applied at night when all foragers are inside the nest. The nest entrance should be identified and marked during daytime in order to be easily located at night. Yellow jackets are attracted to light, so do not hold a flashlight while applying an insecticide to a nest. If you prefer to keep your distance, several aerosol insecticides that can spray a stream up to 25 feet also are available.

Check the colony entrance the next day for activity and reapply again if necessary. If daytime control is necessary, the person should wear protective gear including a hat, veil, coveralls and gloves because returning foragers likely will attempt to defend the colony.

In some situations, one may opt to use a yellow jacket trap, which is relatively inexpensive and contains a nontoxic bait. Several traps are available at your local garden center, such as Rescue Yellow Jacket Trap, Raid Disposable Yellow Jacket Trap and Victor Yellow Jacket Trap.

Traps should be placed around the perimeter of recreational areas well in advance of outdoor activities. Most trap directions call for a reservoir to be filled with an attractant such as sugar water. Exhausted yellow jackets fall into the liquid and drown.

For more information, check out "Stinging & Biting Pests of People."

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County Extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.


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