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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 9, 2007 4:00 PM. The previous post in this blog was The original inconvenient truth. The next post in this blog is How to start getting out of Iraq. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Sunday, September 9, 2007

Never on the invitation list

One of the bad things that human activity may be doing to the planet is messing with the bee population. Or maybe it's just Mother Nature giving them a hard time. But either way, after attending a number of late-summer outdoor events this year where food and drink have been served, I can't say that I'm missing the yellowjackets.

Comments (8)

Gotta add my two cents here. Not that you are, but do not confuse honey bees with yellow jackets. Totally different groups. And while the honeybees have been affected my various viruses, mites, etc., any decline in the yellow jacket population is due to other factors. The primary controls on their populations - as I have witnessed over the years - has to do with climate. I am not an entomologist, but I have been observing hornet (which includes yellow jacket) behavior for years due to a deep-seated phobia… Usually the populations decline when the hibernating future colony starters (the big fat slow ones you see early in the spring) are unable to establish their underground, or in-structures colonies. This can be due to a warm spell early in the season causing them to come out of hibernation, followed by a freeze killing them. The next element to control their populations is considerable rain occurring after the initial formation of the underground colony, which is most common in this area - often deserted mole runs. They drown. No loss as far as I am concerned.

The best way to control local infestations of yellow jackets is to look for the colony starter at the end of the winter. That rolled up bamboo screen on the back porch probably serves as a hibernation place. Unroll it toward the end of winter and the fat future mothers will be nestled in their beds. Wood piles are popular. Ever wonder how the hell that big fat yellow jacket got in the house early in the spring? Probably sleeping peacefully in that piece of fir for the fire until it was brought in to the heat of the indoors. Maybe those old shoes from the backyard that were brought into the garage held a sleeper. At the end of summer when the temperature drops, individual yellow jackets will find anyplace they can to winter over and start a new colony if given the chance. I have found the best method of control is to be(e) aware in the early spring of the newly-awakened colony starters. You will find them chewing on your weathered wooden lawn furniture or been poles, etc. They chew the wood and use it to fortify their underground structures. Whack ‘em. Contrary to popular thought, yellow jackets don’t build the suspended paper nests like Winnie-the-Pooh likes to raid. Neither do honeybees for that matter. They belong to the bald-faced hornets. A particularly nasty and potentially deadly breed of hornet. They are the BIG black and white variety that go thru a similar cycle as the yellow jacket. Best to whack them early in the spring, too. No starter, no colony.

But love the honeybees. I’m sure I will get hate mail about my hornet practices, but I encourage the honeybees to the greatest extent possible. Although I have noted the steep decline earlier in the summer season, they still seem to thrive in the late summer - like the last month on - on honeybee friendly plantings. I have a grove of “devil’s walking stick” which is a kind of sumac. The explosion of white flowers attracts huge numbers of the honeybees from wild colonies. Then the flowers after being pollinated turn into little purple berries attracting lovely cedar waxwings, band-tailed doves, flickers, downy woodpeckers, and if you are lucky - the pileated woodpecker! Sunflowers are great for the honeybees too. They are wonderful and necessary. And benign.

But “whack the jack”ets. Yeah, they do a little bit of Mother Nature’s clean-up work. But when the natural food supply starts running out they get real nasty.

Anyhow, this advice and $11.00 will get you a bottle of Ladybug Red at the local Wild Oats for another month or so…

I have found the yellow jacket traps work really well - the flourescent yellow ones. Instead of using the attractant/bait that comes with the kit, I use a half-slice of raw bacon per trap - works great. The yellow jackets easily find their way into the trap, but can't find the exit. They usually die within 24 hours.

Last summer we were driven indoors for meals by yellow jackets. This year, they're just not around at all. I don't miss them much either, but I think we want/need honey bees if we want/need food.

Many years ago, I stopped at an I-80 rest
stop somewhere between The Dalles and Pendleton to eat the picnic lunch. Lovely
view of the Columbia. Saw a coyote crossing the freeway at a distance. As soon as the sandwiches were unwrapped, the yellow jacket dive bomb began. Retreat to the car.

A few years later, similar scenario at a
Forest Service drive-in site just east of Mt. Hood. Unwrap the sams and let the dive bomb begin.

Although, no one got stung.

Since an incident in which I got attacked by a nest when I was trimming my hedge, I'm been much more diligent in my yellow jacket strategy. I put four Rescue traps out at the corners of my yard by May 1st to catch the queens. I use the 10 week baits, and change them around July 1 and September 1. If I'm having a party, I add some fish or meat. And, when I change them, I go out at night and take them all down into a plastic bag and put them in the freezer for the night, empty them out and change the bait and put them back early in the morning. This has been pretty successful; wish I had an equally successful way to deal with the mosquitoes. Bees, I don't mind. My neighbor keeps bees, and they drink at my bird baths and feed on my flowers, especially the clover that makes up much of my lawn. And we get honey.

Okay, I admit an obsession with the little bastards, and maybe in my life I have had too much time on my hands to contemplate their activity, but I have found that the best way to deal with them is to - duh - destroy the nest. They can be fairly obvious if you step on one or the tine of your rake finds the entrance accidentally. But…

When yellow jackets are foraging they tend to hang pretty low to the ground or close to shrubs, etc., because they are looking for meat in the form of bugs or dead stuff. But it isn’t too hard to find the nest if you want to euthanize the colony. In the evening when the sun is low and things are highlighted laterally, look for the flying insects that are moving in a more vertically directed manner. If you have the time (and a glass of Ladybug Red) to devote to it, find a spot and survey the wide picture to see if you can spot this movement. Usually you can find a vertical up and down regularity that will lead you to your neighbor’s yard, in which case you politely ask if you can assist in improving the quality of his or her life. Hornets follow a pretty well-defined path to and from their nests. This is especially the case with the bald-faced hornets whose paper nests suspend from the inside of leafy bushes and trees, waiting for the unsuspecting pruner to get a big surprise. If you garden, note the path that the hornets are flying in when not foraging, and you will find the nest. It can be relaxing and effective in solving a problem that affects the whole neighborhood. I am not brave enough to attack the bald-faced hornets. I am happy to pay a properly attired professional. But for the yellow jackets, any of the sprays down the hole in the evening or at night can be very effective in a few treatments.

I agree the traps can divert some of them, but I figure that for each one that is trapped, there are ten more behind it.

(Is it just me or this a pretty strange diversion from the regularly posted topics?)

Addendum: I am only advocating against hornets - yellow jackets, etc. Honeybees are a thing of beauty and necessary to life as we know it.

I have actually become rather fond of bald-faced hornets.

I work as a forester in the Northwest, and have many times seen these beneficial predators snatching flies or mosquitoes right out of the air in front of me. They are not at all aggressive if they do not feel that their nest or themselves are threatened, and can be depended on to help keep biting insects in check.

Yesterday, in fact, I witnessed a most awesome spectacle -- a knock-down, drag-out fight to-the-finish between a bald-faced hornet and a yellowjacket. The two were locked face-to-face, flying, stinging each other repeatedly, and careening off of anything in their path -- trees, bushes, even my belly. It was like kamikaze insect ballet.

I hope the yellowjacket lost. I have no love for those guys.


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