urbpan: (dandelion)
While searching for some back-up for my crazy pest control notions (clean trash cans and dining areas with a pressure washer to keep yellow jackets away) I came across this horrifically wrong article. I won't link to it for fear of driving unsuspecting traffic their way.

With summer on the horizon, it’s time to start thinking about picnics and barbeques and all those fun outdoor activities! Wherever you bring food outside, inevitably pests like bees and wasps turn up ready to ruin your party. How do you keep bees away from your food? Here are some tips for getting rid of bees and wasps:

1. Clip On Bee or Wasp Repellent. This is an easy way to get rid of bees and wasps without using traditional wasp or bee repellents that come in spray bottles. The clip ons are just as effective, but there’s no worry about getting chemicals into your picnic food!

There is no such thing as wasp repellent (I'm going to ignore every time they say bee when they mean yellow jacket. I'm getting used to this bit of taxonomy fail.) Anyone who tries to sell you wasp repellent is guilty of fraud. Perhaps this blogger is talking about mosquito repellent. Knock yourself out.

2. Dryer Sheets. Dryer softener sheers are an easy way to keep away bees and wasps without using chemicals. Just leave a few sheets around your picnic table or areas you’re serving food. Best of all, your picnic will smell clean and fresh! You can also use dryer sheets to keep bees and wasps away from people. Simply rub the sheets on exposed skin, or keep a sheet or two in your pockets.

Not proven to work, but hey, as wastes of time and money are concerned this one is pretty minor. If your brand of dryer sheets don't have chemicals in them, you are being swindled. Do they have an odor? Chemicals.

3. Mothballs. These musty smelling balls act as an effective wasp repellent. Scatter them around your picnic area to get rid of bees and wasps. To ensure they don’t get in food or eaten accidentally, try tying a few in old pantyhose. Though mothballs are intended to kill moths in enclosed areas, in open spaces they perfectly safe for humans. Bees and wasps don’t like the smell so they work perfectly as a bee repellent.

HO LEE SHIT. Perfectly safe for humans?? This is by far the most irresponsible part of this article. Not only is this an "off-label" use of a pesticide (against federal law) but it's one of the most dangerous pesticides still in use.

4. Brown Paper Bags. One of the easiest ways to keep away bees and wasps is to hang up a blown up brown paper bag. Simply fill a bag with air and round it off to look like a bee or wasp nest. Bees and wasps are very territorial and will not venture near areas where there are other bees or wasps. It may sound silly, but it works.

Again, this is a harmless waste of time and money. Let me tell you about the times that I have found 3-5 different eusocial wasp nests in the same hundred square feet area.

5. Cut Up Cucumber. Bees and wasps dislike the scent of cucumber slices, so leaving a few of them around your food platters on a picnic is an easy way to keep wasps away with something you may already have on hand. And if your guests are hungry for a snack, you have a healthy one at the ready!

Do they dislike cucumbers enough to ignore the tuna salad and the apple juice? Try it and let me know.

6. Cloves. Bees and wasps don’t like the strong smell of cloves. Scatter a few around the perimeter of your picnic, to get rid of bees and wasps.

This is based on a grain of truth: clove oil is an insecticide. Is there enough clove oil in a jar of cloves that you scatter on the ground to keep aerial pests from visiting your picnic area. I'll stay skeptical on this one.

Hopefully these easy tips have taught you how to keep bees away from your next picnic, using a few materials you probably already have around the house!

And here's the real problem. There must be an easy fix using materials we already have around the house right? That easy fix is called don't eat outside in the summer. OR if you do, don't use anything containing sugar or meat, and while you're at it don't wear any products that smell like flowers or fruit. The truth is that there are (depending who you ask) about a dozen species of yellow jackets, two or three of which are very very attracted to human sources of food. Yellow jackets can be unpredictable: I have eaten an entire "meal" of chicken fingers, sweet and sour sauce (their favorite! Smells like fermenting fruit juice), and soda, all the while with yellow jackets all around, crawling on my hands and on the food. I was not stung. I have been stung, randomly, out of nowhere, just because I wandered close to a nest I didn't know about.

Use common sense and please don't misuse pesticides.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I was called up to see a tree up in a non-public part of the zoo, which (the thought was) might have a hornet's nest in it. A hornet's nest in a tree is pretty obvious--either it's a big gray paper football, or it's hidden in a big dead cavity in the tree. This was a pretty small elm, with no big holes, no big paper nests, but plenty of wasps and hornets on and around it. However, there were other insects involved as well, such as this Calliphorid carrion fly.

Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I'm pretty sure my blog project for next year will be called "Habitat" or "Habitats" or some title that includes that word. To understand an organism you must understand its habitat needs. Above you see a bunch of yellow jacket worker sentries, guarding their nest entrance. The nest is built in the wall void of a handmade shed. The gap between the boards is a minor oversight of construction, but it was the perfect opening for the queen wasp to start her nest.

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A little harder to see, in the very center of the top third of the image, is a round wasps' nest. This is another yellow jacket nest, probably a different species. In this case the queen's instincts told her to get up high, and to attach the nest below a rain-proof overhang. This is a hay barn--the doors that lead into it never close perfectly flush, so there is always enough space for foraging workers to fly to and fro.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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At the end of the autumn, the fertile males and females are born. They leave the nest and mate. The males die. The fertilized females seek shelter--under the loose bark of a dead tree perhaps, or in the gap of the exterior of a worn and shoddy building. That's how this would-be yellow jacket queen (Vespula sp. or Dolichovespula sp.) ended up indoors. Disoriented from the long winter and working off of reserves of energy, she headed the wrong way from her hiding place, emerging into a room and heading toward a full-spectrum fluorescent light instead of the light of day.

Her resemblance to the European paper wasp ends at her black antennae (the EPW's are orange) and her stout body. Her workers, should she be successful in establishing a nest will be as small as houseflies, and more protective of their home than the average guard dog. I can knock down a EPW nest with a short stick and no more protection than sunglasses and a baseball cap. A yellow jacket nest might require a full tyvek suit and bee veil to safely tackle.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Kikipuff and I were eating lunch outside at a picnic table when she began to be vexed by a single persistent yellow jacket worker. The wasp was intent on sampling my friend's chicken sandwich. Kiki ripped a chunk off of a chicken nugget and set it aside as an offering. The wasp's behavior didn't change. I realized that while the insect had originally oriented by scent, now she remembered the location of the food source and was not to be dissuaded. We slid down the bench and Kiki left the chunk of chicken at her now vacant spot on the table. Immediately the yellow jacket landed at the meat and took her time cutting a piece, before flying off to bring it to the larvae back in the nest.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Ants dismembering a yellowjacket carcass.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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While trimming some of the viburnum shrubs in the zoo, one of our horticulture department staff found these two large nests. The top one is belongs to aerial yellowjackets (probably Dolichovespula arenaria) and was discovered right above a pathway through the Children's Zoo. When I took it down I noticed that they had already started producing next year's queens.

The second one belongs to bald faced hornets Dolichovespula maculata, which are also yellowjackets (notice they are in the same genus) but are black and white instead of black and yellow. They are also much larger than most species of yellowjacket. I generally leave them alone since they are not as aggressive as some other species, and are beneficial predators of other insects. Some sources say they'll even prey on other yellowjacket species. Unfortunately this nest was discovered right over a picnic/special event area, so I took it down.


Aug. 2nd, 2014 09:38 am
urbpan: (dandelion)
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A yellow jacket worker guards the entrance to a subterranean nest.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Unfortunately, yellow jackets were hermetically sealed within the butterfly pavilion. While they harmlessly drank nectar alongside the butterflies, they also caught and killed butterflies to feed their young.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I carry my camera around with me at work to document field work that I'll need to prioritize. First thing Monday AM I should probably deal with this bald-faced hornet nest, built on an air conditioner right by a door.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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If you are in a place with harsh freezing winters, and you see a yellow jacket in May, you are most likely seeing a queen. She has woken up from her sleep, where she was hiding under bark or under a nice warm rotting log, or--as I suspect in this case--in a crevice or wall void in a building. Queens can sting, apparently, but this one had no interest in doing so. I found her battering against a window, probably trying to get outside to find a place to establish a nest, with whatever energy she had stored from last year.

I got her a little wet, so that she would slow down a bit for the photograph (and this short hygiene video). I have a request in to Bugguide.net to identify her to species.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Dead insects overhead (mostly yellow jackets).
urbpan: (dandelion)
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While attending a presentation on our beehives (see next post) I noticed this yellow jacket nest. Well, the first thing I noticed was yellow jacket workers flying into an old desk that was being stored outside for no good reason I could think of. I carefully slid a panel back and took the above picture. Yup, yellow jackets. Their round paper nests are pretty distinctive, and they love to build them in man made cavities, like in wall voids, ramshackle wooden sheds, and old desks that are stored outside for no good reason.

Whenever I see a new object like a utility box or playground equipment appear in my areas of stewardship, I examine it for openings which wasps will exploit to make nests within. (Also if they have gaps on the ground that lead to cavities that will encourage mice to enter, or open structures up high that house sparrows will use as platforms for nests.) This is a pretty small nest, with only one comb of paper cells. As the summer goes on, the wasps will add layers of combs, each cell serving as a nursing compartment for a new worker. Mature yellow jacket nests will have several thousand workers or more.

Yellow jackets are troublesome wasps because they like to nest near humans, ferociously defend their nests by stinging, and can sting multiple times each. They are attracted to human garbage--meat early in the season and then liquid sugar later in the season. Without humans they would feed their larvae insects and meat scavenged from carcasses, while the adults would make do with flower nectar and the juices of fallen fruit. In nature, they are pollinators, insect controllers, and cleaners of refuse. However, humans have obliged yellow jackets with a bounty of carrion (hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken fingers) and liquid sugar (soda, ice cream, and ketchup) exactly during the summer and autumn months when the wasps are looking for it. We have turned them from beneficial insects into pests (or monsters).

Yellow jacket venom (as well as the venom from other social wasps) is similar enough to the venom of honeybees that those who are allergic to one group have a 30-50 percent chance of being allergic to the other. Yellow jackets are more dangerous because each worker can sting multiple times, and they are far more likely to sting than any kind of bee, and most other wasps.

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The queen is on the left, a bit bigger than a honeybee. A worker is on the right, much smaller than a honeybee.
urbpan: (Default)

Yellow jackets have begun building their nests! This one built a nest inside the shed where I keep my insecticides (pause for laughter). It came down when I opened the shed door, and two yellow jackets came out: the one pictured, and a much smaller one. I caught this one with a glueboard in order to photograph the marks on the abdomen, which supposedly help identify the yellow jacket to species.

Read more... )
urbpan: (Default)

Blue plastic hung to mute the afternoon blaze. Two insects trapped.
urbpan: (Default)

Harry (the horticulture director) and I were looking at a tree knocked over by Irene. The exposed roots contained a now visible yellow jacket nest. As I stood there trying to figure out how to deal with it, Harry noticed this green orb-weaver, on a web made over night on the roots. He knows what I like, and insisted I take a picture before moving on to the problem at hand.

three more things )


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