Posts Tagged ‘wasp control; yellow jackets; paper wasps; traps’

Yellow jackets, a wasp that gets very aggressive late in the season, eat many types of sugars and meats.  Their predilection for sweets creates an interesting phenomenon in fall around trees that are plagued by aphids.   Wasps swarm the tree, flying about in such numbers that homeowners are very afraid.

To understand the wasp, first you need to know the aphids – small, soft bodied, sap-sucking pests of many plants found on most shrubs and trees in our area.  We have several hundred species of these insects, which come in a variety of sizes and colors, from green to black, purple, and red. 

Aphids are greedy feeders, pulling out the sap of the tree so quickly their tiny bodies can’t process all of it.  What isn’t used flows out their back end in a sticky, sugary liquid entomologists politely dub “honeydew.”  Wasps love this yummy treat, lapping up the sugar snack without a thought to its origin.

 If you have a problem with wasps flying around a tree, check it for large numbers of honeydew producing insects – most likely aphids but it could be scale.  The honeydew is what the wasps are after. 

A similar behavior occurred this summer, with wasps scavenging along tomato plants.  On closer observation, I discovered that the wasps were gleaning lerps from the plants, which is excrement left by a different sap sucking insect called psyllids.  Unlike honeydew, lerps is solid, resembling sugar crystals and apparently tasting like them too.

That’s a sweet tooth that’s out of control. 

There’s little to be done about the tree at this time, since the leaves will fall soon and the aphids will go into dormancy.  The time for action is next year, just before budbreak, when you could apply dormant oil to the tree to try and smother aphid eggs.  The wasps will eventually die off, leaving only the queen to survive winter.

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Every year when fall creeps in around the garden, harvest is at its peak.  But not all who glean the garden are popping things into freezers or canning jars.

Some are taking it back to the queen, where she waits, grumpy from heat and exhausted from a summer spent laying eggs, surrounded by a court less tolerant and quicker to anger.  Yes, fall is the season when wasps make their presence known, and this year is no exception.

A simple explanation is that yellow jackets are more noticeable in fall because there are more of them.  Each winter only fertilized queens survive, hiding in nooks or crannies of the landscape, while abandoned nests wither and die.  In spring young queens emerge to start a new colony.

Although adults prefer a high carbohydrate diet of fruit or nectar, the larvae like meat.  This the adults scavenge, bringing back insects, earthworms, or chunks of the hamburger they raided from your picnic.  Once at the nest, the adults lovingly chew the food to make life easier for the young, something any parent can relate to when thinking of the lengths they go to just to get their kids to eat.

In return the parents are treated to a sweet material produced by the young as a thank you.  Over the summer this arraignment works – the adults feed the young, and the young feed the adults.  But in fall, the queen lays fewer eggs, resulting in fewer young.  This puts the colony on a diet and, ravenous for sugar, the adults aggressively work our yards, searching for any and all sweets.

By the time we notice that wasps are a problem, the colony has grown to huge proportions, easily housing 200 or more tightly wound, half-starved, heavily armed denizens who want sugar and want it now.

Picnics, fruit trees and garbage attract notice; an open soda becomes a mob scene.  Their rage at being thwarted in a sugar fix is a lot like the reaction to someone trying to cut in line at the Starbucks at 7:30 a.m. – extreme, with repeated stinging to drive off those who get in the way. 

Nothing is safe from their wrath in fall, and if you’re unlucky enough to be allergic to their venom, you need a plan to get rid of these insects.  Normally, when it comes to human-insect interaction, I counsel understanding.

Forget that.

 These bugs are a problem, and the best way to fix it is to find the nest and destroy it.  This is not an easy feat:  yellow jackets are a ground dwelling wasp, making it difficult to find them.  Once you have, destroying it isn’t easy – very often the colony lives quite a ways from the entrance, and sprays may not reach them.

Lure them to a trap baited with heptyl butyrate, which is similar to sugar water.  These brightly colored plastic tubes entice yellow jackets, but not honey bees, with the sweet drink they crave.  But place it away from spots where you picnic – no point in reliving that Starbucks incident.

If there are a lot of wasps flying around a tree, check the leaves and young shoots for honeydew producing insects, such as aphids or scale.  The honeydew – sugary waste excreted by sap-sucking bugs – is what the wasps are after, which shows you the horrors of a sugar addiction gone wild. 

A strong jet of water will knock aphids off of the leaves, but if the tree is heavily infested with scale a stronger approach is needed, such as applications of dormant oil during winter.

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There she is in all her glory: a queen rising from her winter bed ready to begin a new life, a new colony. She is strong, hungry, and looking for real estate in which to build her nest – probably under your porch, your patio, or in the rock walls of the raised garden.

Yellow jackets are beginning their year, and to save the village from bullies, the queen must die. In winter, only wasp queens survive, emerging when the weather warms in spring to begin colonization of our yards. She wakes up eager to feed and alone; by trapping her, you will prevent hundreds of her offspring from harassing your family in fall.

Put out your wasp traps now, filled with heptyl butyrate, or design your own with chunks of cantaloupe – all it takes is a 2-liter sized pop bottle. Cut the top off the bottle at the shoulders, turn it around and slide it into to the lower part of the bottle so the neck points inwards, and staple this together. Fill with a small amount of cantaloupe, and hang it away from your house.

Some wasps prefer protein, so make another trap and put a bit of lunch meat in it. polistes wasp

Another wasp that’s becoming active is the European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominulus. This builds open-faced nests up in the eaves, inside sheds, and in other spots located above ground. They aren’t aggressive, unless you get too close to the nest – then they may sting. Paper wasps look a lot like yellow jackets but aren’t attracted to traps at all. They’re predators, hunting the yard for soft-bodied insects. They, too, start the spring with a single queen per colony, so if they bother you, swat them.

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