Frank Quinnette, Winterthur horticulturist, writes:
Coming off of a mild winter a lot of things seemed to sneak in a little earlier this year. The azaleas flowered early, the goose hatch seemed ahead of schedule, and plants seemed to get green pretty fast. All good right? Well, leave it to me to carry the bad news about what a weak winter can bring early too. Yellowjackets!
If you can’t tell, there is no love lost between me and these proliferators of pain but I do find them somewhat interesting. Nests of Vespula vulgaris or Vespula malculifrons (pick your poison) are formed (usually in a shady area) from chewed up wood and leaves by an overwintered fertilized queen. She’ll lay eggs in the spring that hatch into workers (sterile females) that take on the nest-building project and care for the young. They are also the ones that protect the nest. I’m betting Her Highness got an early start on the family this year which has worried me into paying a bit more attention when I mow around the garden.
Working outside most of my life I’ve been stung and bitten by all kinds of ticked off critters. Fire ants, spiders, horse flies and honey bees have all taken advantage of my human hide but none have hurt more or affected me as badly as a yellowjacket sting. Fast and accurate as a battery of ground to air missiles these flying venom syringes with a real nasty ‘tude will gang up and inflict damage before you can figure out where they came from. Even better (for them) the merciless little so-and-sos (I’m trying to be nice) can come back and sting again! Different from a honey bee with a barbed sting and the bee’s resulting death from leaving the sting and venom sack in its victim, the yellowjackets’ needle-like sting can be used again and often. Even through your clothes! (great).
Though the adults feed mostly on nectar and ripe fruit they will eat almost anything.
I once saw one climb into a discarded crab shell at a picnic, gather up some meat and take off.( I’m pretty sure I heard it yell…”Victory is mine!” as it flew away bobbing and weaving with the weight of it’s bounty.)
So I’ve got a couple of cans of bee spray handy and stocked up on the Benadryl to contain my mildly allergic reaction ‘cause the yellow jackets are coming early this year.
FYI: You can NOT outrun a yellowjacket with a riding mower.