For Release September 22, 1998

Fall is Wasp and Hornet Season!

by Chuck Otte, County Extension Agent

I was visiting with friends Sunday evening on their deck when all of a sudden their dog started yipping and yelping and holding up an apparently injured paw. A quick inspection revealed a yellow jacket caught up between the poor puppy’s paw pads and the result was a couple of quick stings from a very scared wasp. Sparky’s going to be okay, although limping for a few days, but it quickly reminded me that September and October are certainly wasp and hornet season.

We have many species of bees and wasps in Kansas. These insects, and their cousins the ants, compose an insect order known as the Hymenoptera. This group of insects is huge and well represented in Kansas. There are over 100 species of ants alone reported from Kansas. Bee and wasp species number well over 50 in the state and may actually be over 75. While virtually all the bees and wasps have stingers only a very few are actually a problem with people. Many of the wasps, especially the ones that we are seeing active right now, are solitary ground dwelling insects.

Solitary means that there is usually one active adult, always a female, per nest. These nests may be in a communal area with up to several hundred separate nests, but each nest houses but one adult. This is in contrast to social bees and wasps like honeybees and yellow jackets that have many adult bees often with specialized tasks such as guards, nursery bees and food gatherers.

Solitary nesting wasps and bees very seldom sting. These species use their stingers usually in an offensive manner, often paralyzing insects that are taken back to the nest to feed developing larvae. These species will sting people, but usually only as a last resort when picked up and harassed or caught in clothing. While these solitary nesting species can be rather threatening looking and acting, this is usually a bluff or just curiosity. They are often present for only a short period of time and since most of these species are very beneficial it is best if they are just ignored and left alone.

Unlike the solitary nesting species, many of the communal nesting species such as the little yellow jackets we are seeing so active right now, often use their stingers in a defensive manner. They use their sting to defend the colony from real or perceived threats. That threat can be a raccoon or opossum trying to raid a honey supply or you simply running the lawn mower close to where the yellow jackets are nesting. In either case stings are likely to occur and the stings are seldom singular. Unlike the honeybee most other bees and wasps have a non-barbed stinger so they can sting often and quick.

The yellow jackets, that streamlined honeybee looking wasp like little Sparky ran into Sunday, become quite numerous this time of year since the colony has grown so large. They are attracted to sweets and protein so you can find them at almost any late summer or early autumn outdoor gathering that involves food. If you move carefully around them, try to ignore them, stay calm and don’t trap them in any food or drink you are about to partake of, they will seldom bother you. However, if you start swatting at them, or get one trapped in a soda can or get too close to their nest you can have trouble in a hurry.

If you find a nest treat it carefully at night with wasp and hornet sprays or Sevin insecticide. If you are having an outdoor affair their are some traps and devices that will help reduce the number around your guests, contact me for details. The good news is that by late October this problem is just about gone. Until then be careful and observant if you are outside!


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