ISSUE 14 August 6, 1998
YELLOWJACKET ACTIVITY HIGH AT THIS TIME OF YEAR
Roughly two million Americans are especially sensitive to yellowjacket and wasp stings. Hypersensitive reactions include itching, flushing, hives, and swelling distant from the sting site. Swelling of the tongue and closure of the small air passageways of the lungs can cause wheezing and shortness of breath. Other reactions include hypotension (dangerously low blood pressure), nausea, vomiting, chest pain, abdominal cramps, and headache. They can begin within one second to 30 minutes after the sting and can last for hours. Cases like these need immediate medical help!
The threat of their sting makes yellowjackets unwelcome intruders wherever people gather for a picnic, to pick fruit, to cook out, or simply to get rid of garbage. To hypersensitive people, yellowjackets are among the most dangerous of common wildlife.
Yellowjackets differ from bees in a couple of ways. The yellowjacket stinger does not detach when they sting; consequently, a single yellowjacket can inflict multiple stings. Their behavior is more erratic and aggressive, and their nests are mostly in the soil, although some can be found in rotting sections of trees. They are attracted to sweets and moisture - unfortunately, the same stuff we humans like to consume in late summer - soda pop and donuts, but also open containers of meat. If you drink soda from a can, be especially aware of yellowjacket presence - a mouth sting can cause suffocation!
Managing yellowjacket problems involves two major objectives: protecting yourself and reducing yellowjacket habitat in areas of human recreational activities. To avoid being stung, follow these basic steps.
* Perfumes and other scents, including scented hair spray, suntan lotion, cosmetics, deodorants, and shaving lotion.
* Wearing brightly colored and patterned clothes.
* Going barefoot, especially in vegetation.
* Swatting at or squashing a yellowjacket or bee. Doing so releases a chemical alarm that signals other yellowjackets in the area to attack. If one should light on your arm, it is probably checking out a smell or going after your sweat. Try to remain calm, and gently brush it off with a slow, deliberate motion.
* Sitting on, or handling wet towels, washcloths, or clothes without first making sure no yellowjackets are taking in moisture.
* Cooking or eating outdoors during yellowjacket season - which lasts until the first hard frost!
If yellowjackets are a nuisance on your property, attempt to locate the nest. The best procedure to follow once the nest has been located, is to hire a professional exterminator to wipe them out. If you are the least bit clumsy at getting the spray into the nest, you could be swarmed by several dozen angry yellowjackets seeking revenge with their stingers!
Which leads me to my final point: If you should unwittingly uncover or disturb a nest of yellowjackets, and your first awareness of this are the multiple stings they impart, begin running away and start ripping off your clothes - starting with your shirt. If they are working up your pant legs, try to keep your head enough to get your pants off and thrown in a heap. Once inside (assuming your are not one of the hypersensitives!), first wash the sting sites, then treat each sting with ice, meat tenderizer (this contains enzymes that destroy the proteins in venoms - wet the powder and smear it on with your finger), or a commercial product like Sting KillŪ. Rest, drink cooling fluids, but not alcohol. Having been attacked a couple of times in my life by nests of yellowjackets, I have learned the hard way unfortunately, on how to treat the stings to maximize recovery!
NDSU Extension Horticulturist and Turfgrass Specialist