Wasps, ants and bees are related and all are capable of stinging. But yellowjackets are the most likely to attack if they feel threatened. Although fatalities occur from insect stings, most people will have a fairly mild reaction with some pain and swelling in the local area. Itching, and redness may also be present for some time after the incident. Less than 1% of people are allergic to insect stings, and if symptoms are more serious, please consult with a doctor immediately. With repeated attacks, some will develop a sensitivity to the venom. So be sure to treat nests and remove them as soon as they appear. More on that later.
Social Wasps General Description
- Have three well-separated body regions, a distinct waist and two pairs of clear wings.
- Care for their young and develop a caste system with different forms living together.
- Regenerate a new nest every year because only the queen overwinters; honey bee colonies overwinter together every year.
- Create their nests out of a wood and saliva paste.
- Capture prey with their legs and jaws and use stinging for defensive purposes only; this is different than solitary wasps that subdue prey with stinging (e.g., spider wasp).
- Go through complete metamorphosis (i.e., egg, larva, pupa, adult); adults and larvae have chewing mouthparts, and larvae are legless.
- Capable of multiple stings because they have “smooth” stingers; bees have barbed stingers
Yellowjackets can be distinguished from bees because of their distinct almost disconnected waist. They have relatively few body hairs compared to bees. Yellowjackets are more aggressive than the other social insects. The adults are quick to attack even if you’re not doing much to get their attention. They are much more ready to attack during the daytime when they are searching for food.
Spring brings a new colony is started by a queen wasp. They build in abandoned rodent shelters, in wall voids or on an open area of your roof. In a single summer, colonies can grow explosively and sometimes have 10,000 members.
Yellowjackets will eat almost anything. They are attracted to sugar. So uncovered sweets, soda cans, fruit left out should be covered and disposed of properly. Yellowjackets will often look for fruit like apples, pears, tomatoes or grapes. Pick fruit as soon as it ripens to reduce damage and minimize the presence of these wasps. Yellowjackets also look for protein to bring back to the growing larvae. The bottom line is to keep food sources and garbage contained as much as possible.
Don’t swing at or try to strike yellowjackets. Take care not to disturb nests with water throwing objects or trying to burn the nest. A stinging swarm could be disastrous.
Adult paper wasps are often confused with yellowjackets because of their similar build and coloring. Paper wasps build open-cell nests in protected areas. Under elevated patio decks or stairs, and in the eaves of your house is where you’ll find nests. Because they start a new colony every year, overwintering queens can nest on almost any small cavity or structure. They also build in trees, rocks, and playground equipment.
Paper wasps are predators of other insects. The workers will gather immature insects and even caterpillars to feed the colony. Removing nests isn’t usually necessary unless they are near human activity. Reduce small nests quickly in the spring and as they appear in the summer to prevent colonies from growing.
Allergic Reactions to stings
Normal Reaction: the sting site is initially painful, red, swollen and itchy; however these symptoms will quickly go away after a day.
Large Local Reaction: the sting site has persistent pain for several days, including in the surrounding areas.
Severe Allergic Reaction: the entire body is involved and begins (5-30 minutes) after the sting occurs. People may feel dizzy (lightheaded), nauseated, weak with possible stomach cramps and diarrhea. Often reactions include itching around the eyes, a warm feeling or coughing, hives breaking out, followed with vomiting and swelling. There can be wheezing, shortness of breath, hoarse speech, drop in blood pressure, shock, and unconsciousness.
For people with a normal sting reaction, the following treatments may be useful:
- Baking Soda
- Ammonia Solution (1-2.5% solution)
- Oral Antihistamines
- Epinephrine Inhaler
- Topical Steroids
- Local Anesthetics
- Oral Steroids (prescription only)
Wasp Control and Extermination
Most of the available chemical wasp control products in Utah are available to the public. However, there are several reasons you should use a professional pest control operator.
If you need to take care of nests by your self use beekeeping personal protective clothing to prevent getting stung. Apply insecticides and remove nests at night when it is dark. Wasps are much less active when it’s dark and the risks of an attack is smaller. Many products are pressurized cans that spray up to 20 ft. in a tight stream. Be sure to stand clear of the insecticide. Do not apply to a nest directly overhead. Protective clothing is essential if you are spraying in an enclosed area. Wasps may escape the spray and pursue and attack.
Some material is taken from https://extension.usu.edu/files/publications/factsheet/yellowjackets-hornets-wasps09.pdf.