Questions on: Bees/Wasps
Ron Smith, Horticulturist, NDSU Extension Service
Q: We have a mix of yellow jackets and other types of wasps in my backyard and around the house. Some are black and some are hot red. I have been hunting them down, but I think most of the wasps are behind the siding of the house. My house has three levels, so getting to anything over 13 feet is out of the question. I had a professional look at the problem. I was told the siding would have to be removed to find each nest. I also was told there is no way to make them leave on their own or keep them from coming back after they were removed. I have been putting small bird houses around the backyard and house to see if the birds would cut the number of wasps flying around. I have four to six bird nests around the house and some bird feeders to attract more birds. I have a lot of birds, but I have not seen a reduction in wasps. (e-mail reference)
A: From what I know about your situation, the professional is right on the mark. A neighbor of ours had the same problem. Wasps were nesting under the siding of the house at ground level near the kitchen door. Like you, the neighbor tried everything possible to get rid of them. The neighbor finally resorted to having a professional remove the siding to get a complete kill. If I knew of another alternative, I certainly would let you know. If any readers of my column come up with some sane solutions, I'll pass them on to you!
Q: I noticed something strange in my backyard today. My daughter was stung by something, but we did not see a bee. However, from her reaction, we suspect it was a bee. Later in the afternoon, I was in the yard and found a dead bird with a hole in its belly. Bees were swarming in and out of it. Is this normal? I thought bees ate pollen. (e-mail reference)
A: These are not bees, but a type of wasp known as a yellowjacket. At this time of year, they are very aggressive and will continue to be so until the cold weather kills them. They go after moisture (blood, water, sweat, beer or soda pop) and are attracted by scents, such as perfume, after-shave lotion and cooking food. Even food that you are not cooking, such as sandwiches and cookies, will attract them. The worst thing a person can do is threaten their nest. You also are asking for trouble if you try to swat them. The best thing to do is avoid them completely. If some come around you, ignore them, but carefully try to get away. Bees are not aggressive and are interested in just one thing, which is nectar. The honey bee has a hairy body on which pollen gets stuck. Yellowjacket wasps have a smooth body that usually is defined with yellow and black stripes. They do not deposit their stingers when they sting, so one wasp can sting a person several times. A honeybee sacrifices its life when it stings because the stinger is torn out of its body during that action. The bird probably was attacked and killed by a predator and the wasps found the bird and began feeding on the body fluids. Keep your daughter, other family members and pets away from areas where wasps are active. Too many stings can lead to anaphylactic shock. If the person is not hospitalized or administered an antidote immediately, such an event could lead to death. I would encourage you to hire a professional exterminator to locate the wasp nest (usually in the ground, around foundations or in rotting logs), and take care of this problem. They should at least remove the dead bird, which might take care of the problem.
Q: Thank you for Hortiscope! Do ground wasps die in late October or early November? Will they inhabit the same nest next year? There are three holes close to each other. I've seen wasps in and out of only one of them. Is it a multientrance nest or several nests? (e-mail reference)
A: You are welcome! I have no control of what is published each week. That is up to the editors of the papers. There are a couple of tactics you can employ to get rid of the wasps. Wasp traps work quite well. The wasps are attracted to the solution you put into the traps and they cannot get back out. The traps are available at most garden stores. You also can hire a professional exterminator to do the job. They use more potent insecticides than what is available to the public and they are experienced at such stuff, which you are not. The wasps are killed by the winter cold, but their eggs survive and a new nest is established the following year, sometimes in the same place, other times in a different location.
Q: I have a double problem. I cut down an old lilac bush. Underground bees now have made their home in the stump. I started working on the edge of the stump and was greeted by a small cloud of bees or wasps. I am not sure what they are. I did gradually back away, so they quieted down and went back underground. How do I get rid of these insects and can I use something that will get rid of the insects and work on rotting the stump at the same time? I would prefer something natural, but I am open to something that will not be a major problem to the environment. (e-mail reference)
A: They are probably wasps. You need to get rid of them before you do any digging again. There are wasp insecticides in pressure dispensers that are effective in eliminating them. You need to hit the nest in the evening or early morning (best) while the temperatures are cool and they are in the nest. Stand back, make sure the nozzle is pointed in the right direction and let it fly for eight to 10 seconds. If none fly out after you or you dont see any buzzing around when you return to work on the stump, you have been successful. For the stump, get a material called, of all things, Stump Remover! A saltpeter concoction works slowly to decompose the stump. Follow directions on the container.
Q: It appears the yellow jackets have moved from the compost heap (We hired specialists to remove them) to a small nest under the eaves, whence last fall several sneaked into the house and one hid out in a shoe and gave me a good sting. Just today we noticed the nest. What's the etiquette of dealing with nesting yellow jackets? Can we just knock it down? Say, put a garbage can underneath, and take a swat with a broom? As I understand it, there are queens left in the nest, overwintering. No doubt they'd be unhappy, but can they do anything about it? (E-mail reference, Bismarck, N.D.)
A: If you are talking about this time of year and outside, you have nothing to worry about now. If you are talking about inside or doing it during the growing season, you're a lot braver than I! Swatting at a wasp's nest is not my idea of sport that is fun.
Q: I was composting some food scraps, and I disturbed an apparent nest of hornets or bees. One got stuck in my hair and stung me on the scalp. How can I get rid of them? Will I have to use chemicals and ruin the compost? (Bismarck, N.D., e-mail)
A: I've had enough experience with insect stings to know how much they can hurt! Been stung off of an extension ladder, off a tractor, and while hand cultivating my raspberries--with dozens of stings each time.
They are actually beneficial insects, preying on some of the plant destructive pests. They are also short-tempered beasts that need to be approached carefully, either in the evening or early morning, when they are all back in their nests.
First of all, wear protective clothing if you are planning to undertake this task yourself. This would include protective bee veils and long sleeved, thick clothing. Be sure your pant legs are also tucked into thick socks or high boots, and of course, wear gloves. Line the inside of your pants legs with paper shopping bags to keep the insects from stinging through your clothes while you're kneeling.
Here is a list of suggested, environmentally sound ways of removing these stinging insects:
-- Insecticidal soap can be used; it is completely safe environmentally. To be effective, it must make direct contact with the wasp or yellowjacket.
-- A portable vacuum can be used to remove the insects from the nest. This is really a job for two people who have the ability to remain calm while swarms of angry, buzzing insects land on clothing and face nets. One person digs away at the nest with a trowel while the other holds the end of the vacuum hose near where the insects are coming out. Once there are no more insects flying out of the nest, take turns vacuuming insects off one another's clothing. Then dig the nest out completely, looking for combs of larvae. Place them in a freezer bag. Next, take both the swarm of yellowjackets and the larvae combs and place them in a freezer until they die. If you are entrepreneurial, you can take the frozen insects and sell them to a venom preparation company. If this interests you, let me know, and I'll send you some company names and addresses.
-- Finally, perhaps the simplest and most effective way is to use an aerosol containing pyrethrin and rotenone. The carrier has a "freezing" effect on the insects while the toxins do their work. It would not compromise the value of your compost.
If you live in the country, raccoons or skunks may do the dirty work for you, if you are brave enough to approach the nest in the evening with some honey. Just pour some over the opening, and if any of the aforementioned mammals are in the area, they will smell the honey and dig up the nest for you.
When all is said and done, you may want to hire someone out to do the job. It depends on how much such activity frightens you. It does me, because of my past experiences, so I would opt for hiring someone else to do the work while I watched at a safe distance!
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