Yellow jackets. Those little black and yellow wasp-like insects that enjoy crashing your picnic. You will see them stealing bits of your sandwich and flying away, or taking large sips of your sugary drinks. Try to shoo them away and you only end up infuriating them. Unlike bumblebees, the stinger of the yellow jacket does not detach from its body with one sting. Enrage this animal and you are in for multiple stings.
Yellow jackets create their nests in a variety of places, such as trees, on the sides of your house, or (typically) in the ground. They are easily provoked by loud noises such as lawn mowers, weed whackers, and bulldozers. There are documented cases of humans disturbing these insects and being attacked by a swarm of thousands. These swarms are sometimes fatal, if the person is stung enough. It can take up to 1,500 yellow jacket stings to kill the average human. It only takes one, if that person is allergic to bee stings.
Unlike honey and bumblebees, the yellow jacket colony dies off every year. In the spring, the queen will reproduce enough infertile female workers to forage for food, continue building on to the nest, defend the nest, and care for the young. At the end of the year, the new queens will mate with drones, abandon the nest, and find a good place to over-winter. The cycle begins again between February and April.
However, not everything about these insects is bad. Yellow jackets feed primarily on nectar, pollen (assisting in plant pollination), and insects (helping control the insect pest population). They are also a good food source for animals such as skunks and birds. If at all possible these beneficial insects should not be destroyed, but left alone.
This post was written for an internal newsletter for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). It was written under my maiden name Sarah Kistler.