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Q: What can I do about yellow jackets in my yard?

N.S.

Answer: “Yellow jackets are a type of ground-nesting wasp that can be quite troublesome to the homeowner, especially late summer and early fall,” said Frank Fowler, a biologist and vice president at McNeely Pest Control. The yellow jacket colony starts with a single female in early spring, he said, and by this time of year the nest contains several hundred insects.

“This large colony becomes quite protective of their nest and will aggressively defend it,” Fowler said. “This is the reason that homeowners many times do not find (the) yellow jackets’ nest until late summer while mowing the grass.”

When yellow jackets are observed randomly flying around a yard, they are normally foraging for their favorite foods, which are soft-bodied insects.

They also can be found around pools drinking water, or leftover soda in drink cans. Fowler said that solitary foraging yellow jackets normally do not pose a threat unless they are stepped on barefooted or become a bother around a picnic table.

“The homeowner can be vigilant, and watch the flight paths of the yellow jackets, and many times trace the wasps back to their hole in the ground,” he said.

“Most of the time it is best to try to treat these insects after dark when all of the colony is home for the night. This will ensure that you eliminate the entire colony. As always, read and follow label instructions on the insecticide and use caution. Many times it is best to call a pest management professional, especially if the wasps are in a wall void, or crawl space of a home.”

N.C. State University’s Department of Entomology as an 11-page document giving further details on “non-honey bee stinging insects in North Carolina,” including photos to help identify specific species and tips on controlling them.

As for yellow jackets specifically, “The first decision to make is whether control is actually necessary,” they recommend. “In spite of their reputation, yellow jackets are actually beneficial because they prey on many insects that we consider to be pests. They also serve as food for bears, skunks, birds and other insects. It is important to also note that these colonies die out each year. If a yellow jacket nest is built in a secluded area, you may choose to simply wait until the colony dies out in late fall or early winter. The nest will slowly deteriorate from weather or from attack by hungry birds.”

However, if the nest is where people may get stung — especially people who may be hypersensitive to wasp stings — then they say destroying the colony may be appropriate. Among the additional tips they provide, they point out that if you are spraying their nest, you do not use a flashlight, since that will attract the angry wasps to the source of the light. And also, “do not pour gasoline down the hole of a nest. This is extremely dangerous, as it is a flammable hazard and does immense damage to the surrounding environment.”

You can read the extension office’s full document at content.ces.ncsu.edu/non-honeybee-stinging-insects-in-north-carolina.

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