Yellow Jackets… They’ll Be Ready, Will You?

Story from a few years back: It’s a typical fall Saturday and I’m coaching my daughter’s soccer team. The lineup is done, the kids are ready and the referee is ready to start the game. Life could not be better right? All of a sudden I take a drink from my coffee cup and a sharp piercing pain hits the top sensitive area of my lip. Not knowing what it was, I grab for my lip and low and behold, I’m holding a yellow jacket. SHE is mad as “you know what” and stings me again on my fingers. By now I know what’s going on and I just crush this poor insect with my bare hand. As you know, the skin and tissue around our lips is quite sensitive and I just got a lesson from Mother Nature on just how sensitive my lips are and just how aggressive yellow jackets are! I try to think of something else to try and reduce the pain, but nothing is working. I flash back to my grandfather showing off by grabbing wasps and squeezing them to show us grandchildren how strong his skin was and that he was not afraid of them. My grandfather was a painter and had lots of experience with yellow jackets, especially in the fall months.

Back to the soccer game and now I have a small crowd watching me “dancing” with this aggressive yellow jacket and within no time at all, my lip is swollen up and hurting a lot. We don’t have any anti-histamine in the first aid kit, so I know I’m just going to have to tough it out. I’ve been stung a lot over the years by stinging insects, but I have to tell you this sting on my lip caused me the most pain I had experienced in quite a while. Of course the kids on my soccer team know I work in Pest Control and deal with issues like this all the time, so I have to toughen up and not let them know how much pain I’m in. Soon a parent comes over with some ice and in a few minutes I’m feeling a lot better. I didn’t spill my coffee and after removing the lid and taking a quick look to make sure no more yellow jackets are in my coffee, I finish my brew. We were playing a tough team and we did win the game.

September starts the fall season (Thursday September 22nd 2016 is the first day of fall this year) and it’s that time of year when yellow jacket populations explode and everyone especially fall sport teams will see a dramatic increase in populations of yellow jackets. Here’s why. The nests of hymenoptera are mostly females during the summer months. Most all wasps, hornets and yellow jackets start off the season as fertilized females that have overwintered; usually beneath the frost line. While most all of these are social insects, the females would rather make their nest, find food and care for their young, which are larvae. They really don’t care much about humans, but when you get in their way or disturb them, they go into the “defense mode” and will sting at will. Once the first one stings and gives off the defense pheromone, look out. The rest of the females will come and start stinging, over and over till you run away. The increase in numbers in the fall is because the males are produced late in the year basically to mate with females that will overwinter. Males basically mate and die and the fertilized females will start the process again next year. There are studies that suggest cool and wet months like we had in April and May this year could reduce the numbers of yellow jackets. Like most hymenoptera, yellow jackets are beneficial and should be left alone. Be careful in the month of September as yellow jackets, especially the ground nesting German yellow jacket will be more noticeable due to the increase in numbers.

Editor’s Note:
William A. Kolbe, BCE is a Board Certified Entomologist for Viking® Pest Control based out of Warren, NJ. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Entomology with a minor in Ecology from the University of Delaware. Bill is a member of The Denville NJ Community Gardens. He can be reached at 800-618-2847 or visit


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