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Michael Wheeler: How to control yellow jacket population
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They are a part of summer, but I don’t have to like it. And I am referring to the presence of yellow jackets.

As much as I don’t want to admit it, yellow jackets serve a purpose. They are beneficial around gardens because they feed on caterpillars and other insects.

With that said, a yellow jacket sting can turn into a life-threatening situation if you are allergic to the venom. Therefore, being able to identify yellow jackets is important because many times they can be mistaken as honey bees.

The yellow jacket is about a half-inch long with alternating yellow and black bands down its hairless body.

Honey bees are a bit larger in size and have hair on their bodies. Bees will also usually have pollen sacks on their rear legs filled with yellow pollen they have accumulated as they forage.

Knowing the life cycle of yellow jackets can also help spot them as they form a colony.

Like honey bees, yellow jackets are ruled by a queen. She is the only member of the colony to overwinter. In April or May, the queen emerges to find a nesting site, typically in soil. She then builds a small paper nest and lays many eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, they mature into adult workers. From there, the workers take over the nest building task from the queen. They also forage for food, protect the nest and feed the queen and larvae.

By August, the colony can reach a size of several hundred workers. At its peak, the colony produces several queens and males. These will leave the colony to reproduce.

Once everything is done, the males die and the queen falls to the ground to find a suitable place to spend the winter.

To control the yellow jacket population, select an insecticide labeled for the insects’ control. Usually it will have a chemical to quickly knock down the pest.

The best way to eliminate yellow jackets is by spraying the nest. Do this at night when the workers are less active and inside the colony. Yellow jackets are attracted to light so do not use a flashlight and limit the number of lights on or around your house.

If you are having a hard time locating the nest, hang a small piece of fish in a tree about head-high and watch the workers. Once they get a piece of food, they usually immediately return to the nest, which can be up to 1,000 yards away.

Another way to control them is to use traps around the perimeter of your yard. Many commercially available traps are out there. Most contain a reservoir filled with sugar water or another attractant like bologna.

Check the traps daily and keep them clean to eliminate the odor. If you use a sugar-based bait, make sure you are not attracting bees. If this happens, change the bait.

A homemade trap can be made by hanging a piece of meat over a bucket filled with soapy water. The soapy water reduces water tension, and when the food-stuffed yellow jackets become too heavy and fall into the bucket, they sink and drown.

These two trapping methods will only keep the population of the colony at reasonable levels, but that might be enough to keep your backyard from being taken over by the foraging colony.

If you have any questions about yellow jackets this summer, call the Extension Office at 770-535-8293.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, His column appears weekly and on