Although stinging wasps like yellow jackets, paper wasps and hornets may become a hazard late in the summer and into fall, they truly are beneficial insects and should be preserved unless they are a direct danger to humans. Most are efficient predators and help regulate pest insects, including caterpillars, within a few hundred feet of their nest sites. Since they are social insects, it is only when humans approach their nests or they perceive a threat that they sting. Late in the season they need sugary food to survive. While scavenging in their nest area, they may discover a wide variety of food left out and available by picnickers, from open garbage cans, or even in the fallen over-ripe fruit left on the ground under a tree. If people disturb them, they take it as a threat and may sting. The females do the stinging, and they can do it repeatedly, since their stinger has no barb and can be retracted and used again and again.
There is a group of wasps that do NOT sting, or rarely do so. These are called solitary wasps because they do not live in colonies. They are beneficial, and may be predacious like the cicada killer, carpenter bee, digger wasps or mud dauber. They are normally docile and use their stingers to subdue their prey. Only the larger of these (females) can sting, and would not do so unless stepped on or otherwise molested.
Control of Wasps and Yellow Jackets
• Only seek out nests to destroy if they are in a location where the stinging insect may be a hazard to people.
• Use ECO PCO Jet-X to destroy above ground nests safely. Locate the nest in the daytime; return at night to spray. Use a flashlight covered with red plastic or a red handkerchief to not awaken or attract the wasps to you.
• If you have indoor nests in walls or attics, you may use ECO PCO Jet-X if the nest is from paper wasps; if it is from yellow jackets, you may wish to apply boric acid in dry form at night where they are known to be entering. It will take a while, but the boric acid will be carried into the nest and do its work. Do not close up the entrance until you have seen no activity for several days. Any trapped wasps may find a way to enter the building.
In the fall, use a Yellow Jacket trap and lure to attract the wasps away from where you wish to eat on your own property. Put it out several hours before you begin to set out your food, and keep your food as covered as you can. If they only find the trap and lure, then you will enjoy your time outdoors and be able to repeat the experience many times.
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Nests of social wasps generally last only a year unless the climate is warm year-round; then a nest can be inhabited two or three years. Because of its construction, location, and susceptibility to wet weather, it generally does not last longer than that. A nest is started in the early spring by a queen who emerges from dormancy, feeds, and begins to build a nest. She lays eggs and feeds the larvae that emerge. When new adults all females emerge, they take over the food gathering and leave the queen to deposit more eggs. Toward the end of the summer, the larvae that emerge include both males and females. In the late fall, males and females mate; the males die, but the mated females seek a place to hibernate and emerge in the spring to start the process all over again.
Nests of social wasps vary as to size and location. Yellow jackets may build nests in the ground, in high eaves of buildings or from limbs of trees, or even inside walls of a building or in an attic. Paper wasps build smaller nests in protected areas such as under eaves, under tree branches, under vines or in attics. They like to live near orchards or vineyards. Hornets like to build their completely enclosed nests in wooded areas attached to a tree branch, but may choose shrubs, utility poles, or even house siding.