It’s August again. That time of year when the days feel extra hot and dry and when kids start going back to school again (much to their chagrin). In addition to its oppressive heat, late summer is also when we really see large numbers of what we like to call angry stingers around. Hornets, wasps, and yellowjackets all seem to be more common now than they were in May, June and early July because there are literally more of them. Throughout the summer they have been reproducing and growing in population to nests of dozens or hundreds of stinging buggers. Here in Colorado, the main culprits are “social wasps” as opposed to their solitary relatives who are unlikely to bother people unless you step on them. Western yellowjackets, bald-faced hornets, and European paper wasps are the species that we run into here.
Yellowjackets are by far the most problematic, as they are the ones that go after your picnic or garbage and tend to sting relatively easily. They are bright black and yellow, with a honeybee-like stout body shape. They typically nest underground, or in other very enclosed spaces like in your attic or sprinkler box.
Hornets, specifically bald-faced hornets here, are less of a problem, because they are usually nested in trees and do not scavenge your picnic like yellowjackets. Their nests are paper constructions that look like grey lanterns. They are black with white striping and have stout bodies a little larger than yellowjackets. Despite their fearsome reputation, they actually aren’t likely to sting unless seriously bothered.
European paper wasps make open, combed nests in small crevices and cracks they find commonly on our buildings so you’re likely to run into them. Paper wasps are colored like yellowjackets, bright yellow and black, but are more slender-bodied and when they fly their rear legs dangle in the air below them. They also do not scavenge and are actually predators of some garden pests like caterpillars.
A good rule of thumb with all of these species is to give them plenty of space, especially around their nests. If they’re being picnic pirates, then you can probably shoo them away carefully or set out a bait piece of food away from you for them to have. If you have an unwanted nest in your yard, the best thing to do is to wait until Fall to remove it. If you can’t do that, then please do your homework on whose nest it is and what is the best way to remove them.
Angry stinger facts:
- Yellowjacket colonies can grow to around 200 individuals in a summer
- Western yellowjackets are estimated to be the culprit of 90% of “bee stings” every summer in Colorado
- Bald-faced hornets feed their larvae live food, and some farmers use this predatory nature to have them around for pest control purposes
- European paper wasps are relative newcomers to the state and are invasive
- European paper wasps are usually found in urbanized areas and their native paper wasp counterparts are usually found in rural or natural areas away from people
- Only female wasps and yellowjackets have stingers
- Only the queens of wasp and yellowjacket colonies live through the winter. The workers are all hatched through the spring and summer and die in the fall
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