If you see a cloud of insects hovering over a hole in the lawn, a hollow tree or a gap in a wall, proceed with caution. If they are chubby and fuzzy, they’re probably peace-loving ground bees that mean you no harm. However, if they are the sleek and shiny wasp known as the yellow jacket, it’s best to steer clear.
“Eastern yellow jackets found in the Northeast are particularly pugnacious,” said Steve Jacobs, an urban entomologist with the Penn State University entomology department. “They do love any excuse to defend their nest.”
Yellow Jackets are more aggressive than other stinging insects such as wasps, hornets, mud daubers or bees. They can sting AND bite. Since Yellow Jackets don’t lose their stinger, they can sting numerous times, and will do so unprovoked.
Some species of this wasp are present in nearly every state in the country. Populations, as well as sting rates, are on the rise. Currently more than half a million people seek medical treatment for insect stings each year, according to the National Pest Management Association.
About 16 species reside in the U.S. They are social insects that have annual colonies; only the queen lives through Winter to start a new colony in the Spring. Depending on the species, the queen will pick either an underground or aerial site to build her nest. Common places for a nest are attached to bushes, trees, or the eaves of homes. Yellowjacket nests are built with a recognizable paper-like material made from chewed cellulose.
If you encounter some while gardening or mowing the lawn, run away. Fast. Fredericks says yellow jackets will come after you but usually won’t chase you very far. If you do get stung, treat the area with ice and antiseptic. Seek medical attention for allergic reactions, such as trouble breathing and major swelling.