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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

When Yellow Jackets Are Threatened

Update: Picture added below so you can see that the nest is hidden.

Yesterday I had my house inspected for termites or any other critters that might be trying to destroy it. Luckily, I had none of those. However, the pest control technician did notice that there were a lot of yellow jackets, specifically German yellow jackets, flying around the porch by the front door.

He said there had to be a nest nearby. After a few minutes of searching, he found the entrance. It was right in the corner of the porch above the front door. You could see they were flying in and out of a little hole between the wood trim and the brick. Once I saw it, I don't know how I missed it because you could even see some residue on the brick where they had been coming and going.

He recommended spraying an insecticide dust up into the hole at night and sold me some to use.

Night came and I prepared for battle. I read the instructions and it seemed like it was going to be pretty easy.

The instructions noted that you should not shine a flashlight or other light source directly on the nest as this would alert the yellow jackets to your presence. To see what I was doing, I turned on the porch lights, which are recessed in the porch ceiling. I figured they would not be a direct light on the nest but would provide enough light for me to see what I was doing.

I was not prepared for what I saw.

There were hundreds of yellow jackets swarming by the entrance to the nest. At that point, I maybe should have stopped to consider if I should be the one applying the dust. Instead I reached up there and gave the dust bottle a couple of good squeezes sending dust up into the hole and all around.

Then I ran as fast as I could down the steps, along the walk and into the garage. Once there, I could hear something buzzing around my head so I threw down the duster and wildly waved my arms all around to try to get rid of it.

"It" was a very mad yellow jacket. And then it stung me on the neck. Ouch! I ran into the house and then realized it was still on me, and it stung me again on my upper chest. Then it flew up by the light in my bedroom where it continued to angrily buzz around.

I fled to the living room, and called my friend and neighbor next door to tell her what had happened.

Then I went back to my bedroom where I could hear that yellow jacket buzzing around the light. I ran into the bathroom to get hydrogen peroxide to clean the two sting sites which were now big welts.

Then I applied a baking soda paste to the welts and called my friend back. I looked up on the Internet to see what else I should do. Apply ice for swelling. So I did that. My friend found a website that said to go to the hospital if you were stung more than 9 times. I was stung twice, so I stayed home, and I had no symptoms other than some swelling of the sting sites.

In the meantime, that yellow jacket was still back in my bedroom. I could not go to bed with it in the house!

So I turned off all the lights in the house except one in the laundry room hallway, hoping the yellow jacket would go to that light, at which point I could use a fly swatter to kill it.

There I sat in the dark in the living room, with my friend on the phone in case I should go into some kind of shock or something, with an ice pack on my neck, waiting for the yellow jacket to go toward the light of the laundry room hallway.

While I waited, I looked up more information on the web about yellow jackets. Turns out they are aggressive when threatened and can sting multiple times.

Then I heard it buzzing again nearby me, in the dark, in the living room. It was coming after me, not going toward the light!

I flew up out of my seat and looked around in the dark. I looked on the computer screen, the only source of light in the room, and it wasn't there.

Maybe I was hearing things.

I sat back down, talked on the phone some more, worked online some more. Then I heard the buzzing again. I jumped up, and this time I saw the yellow jacket. It was hovering near death. I swatted it down and then proceed to swat it to its death.

Then I went to bed.

This morning when I got up, I had hoped to see hundreds of dead yellow jackets on the porch. There were a few, and then later a few more. But activity around the opening has slowed way down, and those yellow jackets that I do see are either crawling on the wall or flying slowly. I'm supposed to dust the nest again in a few days and then when I see no more yellow jackets leaving or entering, I can caulk up that hole.

Once again I think it is safe for visitors to come to the front door, and for me to use it, too. Order is being restored.

And I'll be just fine, too.

What did I learn from this?

1. Have more respect than you think you need for yellow jackets or any other stinging insects. They will sting if threatened, and squirting insectide dust into their nest is threatening to them.

2. Do your research BEFORE you set out to destroy something like a yellow jacket's nest.

3. Gardeners are bound to be stung. Know how to treat a bee or wasp or yellow jacket sting before you are ever stung.

4. Be more observant when you see an unusual number of wasps or yellow jackets because they may be nesting nearby. I had noticed a lot of yellow jackets but just assumed it was a normal amount for early fall.

5. Maybe consider having the pest control technician come back for the kill. Though he didn't offer to do that. Wonder why?

No picture tonight, unless you want to see a picture of a dead yellow jacket. I do have one.

Pictured added so you can see that the nest is hidden behind the wood. All that white stuff on the brick is the insecticide dust residue.

31 comments:

Bonnie said...

What a scary story. We have had two cases of yellow jacket attacks this summer. One on me as I was weedwacking some grass back by our pool equipment. The second on my husband as he disregarded my story and said it was probably a spider bite, not a sting, and proceeded to start weedwacking again. I got stung once. john got stung 5 times all on the arms and then chest when they got up his shirt.

We called a bug guy to come hose the area down with stuff since we could not find the nest. But their stings are nasty and painful and they are angry little buggers.

Gina said...

carol - that was frightening! I'm going to send your blog to coworker who has the exact same problem right now. good luck!

Leslie said...

I hope the stings are feeling better...what a scary experience! You're right ...we should have a plan for dealing with things we might come across hanging out in our yards. At least my black widows don't fly or travel in packs!

Katie said...

Yikes! Have you considered a spray vs. using a dust? We use Victor Poison-Free Elixer and it smells strongly of mint, but paralyzes wasps/yellow jackets rather quickly.

But I did have to laugh a little when I imagined you hunkered down in the hallway with a flyswatter, ice pack, etc. It was a little funny...

Good luck with those buggers!

Annie in Austin said...

Holy Cow, Carol - yellow jackets are nasty. I'm so glad you're okay.

We used to have them in IL, and they always seemed to be worse in dry years, when there isn't much fallen fruit and there are fewer insects so the yellow jackets hungry and more competitive or so it seemed to us. A couple of times we had to kill a nest in self defense, but we didn't use a dust. We bought a can of the bad stuff, with a spray that could be aimed about 10 or 15 feet away so you could hit the nest without getting as close.

Sometimes killing is necessary, but it still leaves you feeling sick.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

chigiy at Gardeners Anonymous said...

Oh Carol,
I'm so sorry that happened to you.
What an awful experience.
I know how painful their stings can be.
I get stung at least once every summer.
The yellow jackets have nests all over the two acres that surround our house. They mostly make nest on or near the ground like in old tree trunks. They will make a nest in my garden and I wont know it and I'll be weeding one moment and running for the baking soda the next.
I'm sure they're beneficial but I hate them.
This is how we destroy the nests.
First we wait until it's almost dark but light enough to still see a bit.
We carefully cover the nest in plastic using duct tape around the edge if it's possible.
Oh yah, I'm sure you figured this out already, never approach the nest if there are wasps on the outside.
Then we stick one of those foggers under the plastic, turn it on and head for the hills.

LostRoses said...

Carol, I think I would have run screaming down the street until the neighbors came and took care of it. Yikes, what a story! I'm glad you are okay but it doesn't sound like you came out of it unscathed. Why didn't the pest control technician do it? - he probably didn't want to get stung.

It's weird that I had a yellow jacket half-stuck to my windshield this morning when I got in the car. I could see him wiggling but I was hoping he would blow off as I drove. He didn't so I had to turn on the windshield wipers. I think the wiper brushed him into the air vents. After reading your story I'm looking all over the car before I get into it again!

sister with the homestead said...

Carol,

You're not allowed pest control again. What if more than one had had the strength and determination to come after you? Better to call in the professionals. You never know when a seemingly innocent, easy job can turn into an Alfred Hitchcock nightmare!

Kris at Blithewold said...

Stings are definitely an occupational hazard in this line of work! I admire your follow through, your taking the bull by the horns - and smashing it with a swatter! But yeah, be even more alert for next time - allergies can intensify sting by sting... At least have some benedryl on hand just in case!

Robin (Bumblebee) said...

What scares me is when they nest in the ground. My brother stepped on a nest of ground bees once and landed in the hospital. Very bad that.

I have always wondered if yellow jackets are useful the way honeybees and bumblebees are. Probably are, but do they have to be so very mean? I can work all day around bumblebees, even cutting flowers that they're on. They don't care. Just go along their merry business.

--Robin (Bumblebee)

Me said...

Wow! I am glad you weren't allergic given the location of those stings...wow! I am also glad you had a neighbor who was willing to stay on the line with you.

You are right stinging insects such as hornets, wasps, and bees should not be fooled around with.

(My youngest snatches bees right out of the air - I have not convinced her that this is a bad idea - so far she has not been stung).

QT said...

Carol -that pesticide guy is a little dingy - the dust is for ground nests. Nest like yours, you are supposed to use a pressurized spray so it knocks them down!

I, too, am thankful that you are not allergic and were not stung more times~while the yellowjackets do us a favor by eating all the caterpillars and worms that eat our gardens, I wish they would find other places to nest.

Colleen said...

Oh, my gosh! I'm glad you're okay....I would have been screaming like a crazy woman.

Good point about having respect for creatures like this....I always just saw yellow jackets as a nuisance, ruining summer picnics and such. I never considered how dangerous they could be if threatened!

Take care, you mighty yellow jacket hunter ;-)You're a braver, apparently less panic-prone woman than I!

Dirty Knees said...

What a nightmare! EW! I'm glad you're OK.

Mary said...

Oh, Carol. I read this post on the edge of my seat! I'm glad you are OK and the nasty thing is dead. I'll bet the exterminator doesn't make evening calls so he leaves it up to you to take the risk.

I have eliminated hornets' nests twice before and it scared the living daylights out of me I went outside at night a can of deadly serum. Squirt & run!

Yolanda Elizabet said...

Phew, I'm glad that you're OK. Please don't ever do that again (as if).

Next time get a big strapping chap to do it for you, while you watch from a safe distance, a very safe distance, like over here at Bliss and we'll have a nice cuppa. :-)

We had a wasps nest once and I let a big chap (aka the under-gardener) handle it, always a good idea. ;-) And he was only allowed to do it after he had all the necessary info.

My dad is allergic for wasp stings, so I know how dangerous insects with stings can be.

Mr. McGregor's Daughter said...

I have a trick for you if you ever have 1 in the house again. Get out your hairspray & squirt the little bugger! The hairspray gums up the wings, the hornet then falls to the floor where it can be squashed. For the nests on the house, the spray foam is definitely the way to go. (I've never heard of using the dust on them that way.) And don't feel guilty about killing them, they aren't native insects. In fact, I had never seen 1 til I was about 9.

Robin's Nesting Place said...

I left a comment earlier today and it didn't post. So, I'll try again.

I'm glad you're O.K. too, Carol. That was a frightening experience I'm sure. I'm even more afraid now to mess with the moonflower and all those wasps that seem to be enjoying it right now. I hate to be stung, it is so painful.

I think I'd use the spray next time too.

Ki said...

Whew, glad you're not allergic and went into anaphylactic shock. I got stung by a ground wasp when I disturbed its nest when cleaning the fish pond filter. Apparently ground wasps are especially protective of their nest and sting readily. The next time I tried to clean the filter I could see a lot of wasps coming and going so I decided to get rid of the nest. I first used a hose from about 15 feet away but that only made them more angry. So I looked stuff up on the web which recommended using soapy water which I did with two buckets full at dusk but I still saw wasps coming out of the nest so I just soaked the nest with water from a hose for about two hours. Because of the close proximity to the pond I couldn't use the insecticidal powder you used which almost all the exterminator companies recommend. The next morning there were still many wasps around the nest. I guess they were stranded by darkness when foraging for food. So I blasted the remaining wasps with soapy water in a spray bottle and that seemed to do the trick. I hated to get rid of the wasps because they are beneficial in getting rid of a lot insect of pests but I could just see getting stung by hundreds of wasps. My plan was to dive into the pond if that happened! I was amazed at how large the nest was. It left a huge hole in the ground when the water caved in the dirt above it.

We have a lot of paper wasp nests around our deck but they are very docile so we just leave them alone.The dog got stung however when she stuck her nose close to the a nest.

A word about the sting. My arm swelled about 3 inches in dia. around the sting. It got hot and itched for many days. The itching was much worse by far than the initial sting. Hope you don't have much discomfort.

Pam/Digging said...

Egad, that sounds unpleasant. I'm glad only one came after you, and not the whole nest. Sounds like you triumphed in the end though.

Connie said...

The wasps have been especially bad this year where we live. I have been stung 8 times over the course of the summer. But the worst was 2 summers ago, when I sat on my Adirondak chair on the porch and there was a nest underneath....I was stung multiple times on the legs and arms and had a serious reaction. I've been scared of them ever since.
So you have my sympathies!

Carol said...

All... thanks for the kind words and comments. I'm still here, I'm still fine, though I still have a red spot on my neck where I was stung. Seems we've all had our more than our fair share of encounters with wasps,hornets, and yellow jackets! I guess I was lucky, in retrospect that more of them didn't come after me. I'll be much more careful next time.

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

jodi said...

Glad you're all right, Carol! What a scary story. We have some sort of nest of wasps down in the lower garden, in around the base of a willow tree, and I'm debating what to do about it. Whatever I do will be done under cover of darkness--maybe from inside the truck and from 20 feet away! I've never been stung by a yellow jacket (or these guys, which have white stripes at the end of their abdomens) but I know it's worse than a honeybee sting, which I got several weeks ago while photographing at a beekeepers. That was nothing and was gone in less than an hour.

MrBrownThumb said...

Glad you're ok Carol.

Your story sort of reinforces my fear of those mean looking bugs.

herself said...

Ouch! They used to build nests behind the shutters in my NE home. You might try a spray next time. You can shoot it from about 20' away. Also if the little *&^#@ chase you you can spray them too.

I once was stung over 30 times. My lab stuck his head in a nest. ( I dunno - labs do things like that. ) Instead of running he sat down and tried to bite them. They covered him like a coat. I had to drag him by the collar with me running. I think it took over a half mile before we lost them.

The ice works best I've found.

But do get the spray before you tackle the nest again.

Anonymous said...

Yellow Jackets....next time try leaving a water bottle filled halfway with sugar water near the nest, like the kind you would put on a water cooler. The sugar water attracts them like crazy. They fly in and drown. Kinda like the Hotel California, they check in but they never check out...! No pesticides, no having to run like the dickens (wink)
Victoria enchantedsavon@yahoo.com

healingmagichands said...

I am leaving a reply for Robin's question about whether yellowjackets are beneficial. They most certainly are -- they eat aphids and scale insects and also caterpillars. The time when they are most dangerous is when they feel their nest is threatened, so if they aren't, like, right over your door like they were at Carol's place, and you aren't in danger of weedeating them by accident like Bonnie did, they are actually worth keeping around. If you live in an area where there is a hard freeze, the nest will be killed off by that cold weather.

I have been stung by yellowjackets when we lived in Bremerton WA. They would find cracks in the wood of the woodpile to overwinter in, and you had to be careful picking wood up and stacking in your arms when bringing it into the house. A yellowjacket that is being crushed between your forearm and a billet of firewood is likely to take exception to it! I learned to wear gloves and a jacket when bringing in firewood! and then, when the poor things wake up after they have warmed up along with the firewood, they wander sleepily around your house wondering where the food is. You can step on them then, Guess how I know?

Sorry you had such a harrowing experience, Carol.

Dee/reddirtramblings said...

Carol, that post about gave me an anxiety attack. I've been stung by paper wasps (two at the same time; their nest was in the split rail fence,) mud dobbers and a yellow jacket (once.) Wasps seem to really like Bear. She's gotten stung a lot. She is deathly afraid of them now. I don't want to encounter German yellow jackets. Ack!!!~~Dee

Carol Warlick said...

So, Carol, what happened after you applied the dust. How many times did you have to go back with the dust? We have a nest under our eave in the back of our house. The pest company applied powder 2 weeks ago and that didn't get rid of them, but reduced them a lot. Now he came again today.
So did you finally seal it up?

Carol said...

Carol Warlick... the yellow jackets did not return, but remember I killed them off in the fall, which might make a difference. I did not seal up the hole, but I haven't seen anything go in or come out of it this spring. But just to be sure, I think I will seal it up.

Lisa said...

I almost screamed as I red this. What your describing...essh. My worst nightmare..