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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

No... those aren't bees!

Disclaimer: The contents of this post are for informational purposes only.  This is not intended as an endorsement or encouragement to use any substance or product in a manner for which it was not originally intended. Anyone who uses a pesticide or poison in a manner other than that for which it was intended does so at his/her own risk!

This is the time of year when an important shift takes place between the relative strengths of two very different types of beneficial insect colonies; Honey Bees and Yellow Jackets. 

Honey bees are essential throughout the spring and summer to pollinate crops, fruit trees and flowers.  Bees are only interested in pollen and nectar and will forage only for these things when weather permits throughout the spring, summer and early fall.

Yellow jackets (actually a type of wasp that many people mistake for honey bees), on the other hand,  are helpful only during a very brief period of the early summer when they eat several species of destructive caterpillars and flies.  However, when these garden pests are no longer available for them to eat, the yellow jackets turn their omnivorous attention to anything and everything else in the environment... and that's when they become a pest/danger to both man and honey bee.

During these mid-to-late summer weeks honey bees deliberately reduce the amount of food they give to their queen which forces her to slow down her egg laying.  The result is that the colony strength begins to diminish and the remaining workers take this as a sign to begin making subtle preparations for the coming winter.  This marks the beginning of a vulnerable period for the honey bee colony.

At the same time yellow jackets are building up the strength of their colonies (they usually make their nests in the ground, hollow trees, or in cavities found in walls or roofs of houses), and without the flies and caterpillars, they are becoming more and more aggressive in their quest for new sources of food.  They will eat dead animals, fruit, fish, soda and nearly anything that would normally be found on a picnic table or garbage can.  The yellow jackets also get very interested in the carbohydrate and protein found in honey and bee larvae... making them a very real threat to honey bee colonies.

Beekeepers are aware of this shift in power and often take steps to make sure the yellow jacket population is dramatically reduced.  As I said, they do this because at this time the yellow jackets are no longer beneficial to the environment and pose a very real danger to the honey bee hives in their weakened state.

Anyone who has ever had to contend with yellow jackets at a late summer back yard picnic or in their sukkah will now understand why they show up in such large numbers.

To kill off as many yellow jackets as possible, beekeepers will often set out poisoned meat for them to take back to their nests.  This kills both the adult yellow jackets who absorb some of the poison as they chew up the meat... as well as the larvae to whom the adults feed the partly digested food. 

It is important to note that this will not prevent yellow jackets from coming back the following year because the mated yellow jacket queens that hatched during the spring and early summer have already left the nest to find a places to overwinter in preparation for starting their own colonies in the spring.

The way many beekeepers poison the yellow jacket colonies is as follows:

In a small plastic dish or bowl a thin layer of ground beef is laid out all over the bottom (separate the strands of meat as much as possible so that the insects can have easy access to it).  Then a commercially available flea & tic-control substance such as Frontline (available from vets or pet supply outlets) is dripped over all the meat. The meat is then set out in a place where it can be clearly observed and supervised.


Two solutions that reduce the risk of accidental poising of pets or children (but are not an alternative to full-time supervision of the process):

1.  The poisoned meat can be placed in a closed bird cage.  So long as the door is securely closed, only insects can go in and out. 

2.  The poisoned meat can be placed under an inverted laundry hamper (the kind that has big holes in it).  Again, so long as the hamper remains in place, nothing but insects can gain access to the meat.

The poisoned meat will only remain in place for a couple of hours.  It is not necessary for the yellow jackets to consume all of the meat.  Once yellow jackets have been observed feasting on the meat for an hour or two, it should be thrown away in a sealed receptacle where no animals or humans can gain access to it!

As I mentioned earlier, this is the time to act if one intends to reduce the yellow jacket population in their area during the late summer and early fall... whether to protect a beehive or simply to reduce the yellow jacket population for reasons of comfort.

Disclaimer: The contents of this post are for informational purposes only.  This is not intended as an endorsement or encouragement to use any substance or product in a manner for which it was not originally intended. Anyone who uses a pesticide or poison in a manner other than that for which it was specifically intended does so at his/her own risk!

Posted by David Bogner on August 3, 2005 | Permalink


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I often joke with one of my regular pals when we pass a particularly attractive roadside display of meat, that "maybe we should we stop and get something tasty to bring home to the colony?"

But this joke is of the darkest variety... because we both know that stopping for this 'forbidden meat'... no matter how delicious it may be... might very well mean not seeing the next sunrise.

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Aug 3, 2005 4:14:24 PM

Sorry, I skimmed this in 2 seconds...I can't read about insects without losing my breakfast.

Posted by: Essie | Aug 3, 2005 4:38:20 PM

Doctor Bean... Very cute. Just remember how witty you were when the yellow jackets are dive-bombing your sukkah! :-)

Essie... Dare I tell you where that honey came from that you just put in your tea and on your cereal? ;-)

Posted by: David | Aug 3, 2005 4:49:59 PM


I had expected your response to Doc. Bean to be more of a stinging rebuke than that.

[Walks away whistling]

Posted by: Jack | Aug 3, 2005 5:28:20 PM

David: Honey's nothing! I've been permanently banned from several breakfast tables by referring to cheese as "rotted bovine lactation" (well, that's what it *IS!*)

I bet an alternative to protecting the meat would be to just use luf... I can't imagine that any chemicals you put in there would be worse that what's already there! :) (Sorry, couldn't resist: I love the stuff too, but it *is* pretty scary)

Posted by: efrex | Aug 3, 2005 5:28:29 PM

Sometimes I see bees just hovering in the middle of the street somewhere. What's happening when they do that?

As much as I love nature, I can't oppose getting rid of yellowjackets wherever possible. Last week my neighbor had a swollen lip. Turns out she was having a bite on her terrace and drank from her glass without noticing the yellowjacket perched on the rim. Ouch. They're back.

Posted by: Rahel | Aug 3, 2005 6:43:13 PM

Rahel: according to the Straight Dope, you're watching a mating ritual. Don't look, it's not nice!

Posted by: efrex | Aug 3, 2005 7:44:46 PM

Any recommendations on how to repel or immobilize yellow jackets who do end up in your sukkah (or anywhere else)? Especially on shabbat, it's a big problem.

I was told once that by spraying them with soapy water they can no longer fly. Is that a good solution?

Posted by: Dave | Aug 3, 2005 8:33:33 PM

Any recommendations on how to repel or immobilize yellow jackets who do end up in your sukkah (or anywhere else)? Especially on shabbat, it's a big problem.

I was told once that by spraying them with soapy water they can no longer fly. Is that a good solution?

Posted by: Dave | Aug 3, 2005 8:35:33 PM

Jack... You'd better run away whistling after a groaner like that! :-)

Efrex... Yeah, I've gotten the same treatment after calling honey 'bee vomit'. Go figure! :-) Oh, and I doubt it was a mating ritual (assuming it was a bee). This is usually done fairly close to the hive... and at a different time of the year. More likely is that a truck carrying beehives from one place to another 'leaked' some bees while travelling, and they are flying around confused without a home or any familiar landmarks.

Rahel... This time of year it is not uncommon for people to get stung inside the mouth or even in the inside of the throat by yellow jackets because they crawl inside soda cans looking for sugar. Then someone takes a sip... and the rest is painful history. The stings inside the throat can be fatal in extreme cases because of the swelling.

Dave... I'd never heard the soapy water trick, but I'd recommend against it for two reasons: 1) you will likely get more soapy water on your food than the yellow jackets; and 2) even if it does keep them from flying, you now have some very pissed off wasps that can sting multiple times (they don't lose their stingers) walking around on you and your table!

The best solution is to buy some of those plastic traps that look like big jars. They have a few small entrance holes and you put fruit juice and a few scrapes of meat in them. hang a couple of these just outside your sukkah and you will catch most, but not all, of the visiting yellow jackets.

Posted by: David | Aug 3, 2005 9:08:18 PM

Here's what I read, "Bees...yellow jackets...poisoned meat." Ugh, I was trying to eat lunch.

Posted by: ball-and-chain | Aug 3, 2005 9:19:44 PM

So is it your contention that if I set out the poison meat now I'll have fewer yellow jackets in my sukkah?

Posted by: psychotoddler | Aug 4, 2005 12:00:31 AM

Good advice in this post.

In Atlanta, yellowjackets are always a big problem around Sukkot, especially because it stays warm well into October. Now I can actually do something about 'em.

It "bugs" me when people refer to yellowjackets as "bees." To me, they don't look at all alike...and, of course, yellowjackets don't make honey. It's good that you pointed out the valuable role they play in the ecosystem, or I'd be tempted to kill 'em all.

Posted by: Elisson | Aug 4, 2005 12:49:08 AM

Can I make a beeline for the exit after reading this detailed post? I've got the heebie-jeebies, the creepy-crawlies...

But in truth I did once have "bee-stung" lips; the one time I was stung by a bee, or a yellow-jacket (perhaps a wasp?),was on my bottom lip.


Posted by: Pearl | Aug 4, 2005 5:16:32 AM

Ball & Chain... I know this post wasn't pleasant for many people... but today's post will help explain why I published it.

Psychotoddler... In keeping with the disclaimer, no... I am not making any such contention. However, hypothetically, if one were to act in the manner described in the post, then theoretically there would be far fewer yellow jackets around in the early fall to bother that person in his/her hypothetical sukkah. Hypothetically speaking... of course. :-)

Elisson... There are very few things in this world that serve no beneficial purpose at all. But I am a firm believer that those who are higher up the food chain are entitled to create small zones of comfort around themselves where all those beneficial creepy crawly stinging things are discouraged form entering. The process I described should afford you such a zone. If you really have such pleasant weather late into the season you might want to repeat the process again in a month or so so that other neighboring yellow jacket colonies don't have the opportunity to take over the territory of the ones killed by the poison. Your neighbors will thank you.

Pearl... As I said earlier, your 'bee-stung lips' were almost certainly a result of a yellow jacket and not a bee. Unless you were taking a sip directly from a pot of honey, there is nothing on a table of human food/drink that would even remotely interest Apis mellifera (honey bee).

Posted by: David | Aug 4, 2005 8:44:34 AM

Efrex, that article described a whole group of gnats. (Now I know what I'm seeing when I have to walk through a cloud of 'em. Oy. Some things I don't need to know.) I'm talking about one little worker bee here! (I'm sure that's not the queen of the hive I'm seeing. But could it be?)

Honest, I'm not a peeping Tom (what's that in the feminine, anyway?)! Not even with bees!

Posted by: Rahel | Aug 4, 2005 9:08:49 AM

Thanks for the info. We have a massive colony near our front door; easily 1,000 yellow Jackets.

I'm off to the butcher's and then to pet store for poinson.

Posted by: Jeff Patterson | Jun 27, 2006 10:10:40 AM

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