Avoid Painful, Often Dangerous, Encounters with Yellow Jackets

By Marcia Anderson

Last week, a friend’s daughter was repeatedly stung by a yellow jacket during recess on her school playground. It was first thought that the children must have disturbed a nest while playing and that the wasp focused on one girl in particular. The playground monitor tried swatting it, but it kept coming back. She was stung three times. We later found that she was wearing a sweet smelling body lotion that may have drawn the attention of the wasp.

Avoidance: The best way to prevent unpleasant encounters with social wasps, such as yellow jackets, is to avoid them. If there is a chronic problem with yellow jackets around playgrounds, picnic areas, or athletic fields, inspect the area to locate the nests. Once you know where they are, have children avoid their nesting places. Avoid swatting and squashing yellow jackets because it is counterproductive. When a yellow jacket is squashed, a chemical (pheromone) is released that attracts and incites nearby yellow jackets. Avoid wearing bright colors, especially yellow, or floral patterns that may attract some foraging yellow jackets. Lastly, minimize the use of products with perfumes such as sweet smelling shampoos, lotions or soaps, as yellow jackets are attracted to sweet smells.

Yellow jackets become more aggressive in the fall.

Yellow jackets become more aggressive in the fall.

Stings and Symptoms: Yellow jacket stings pose a more serious threat to people than stings of bees. Because a yellow jacket’s stinger is not barbed like a honey bee stinger, it can repeatedly sting its victim, whereas a bee can only sting once. It can be very frightening to be the victim of multiple yellow jacket stings. The first impulse may be to run away, however the best strategy is to back slowly away from the colony until they stop attacking. Some people are more sensitive than others to stings due to allergic reactions. People who experience large numbers of stings at once, may suffer severe reactions to the inflammatory substances in the insect’s venom.

Yellow jackets that are foraging for food will usually not sting unless physically threatened, such as being struck or swatted. Multiple stings from yellow jackets are common because they are sensitive to disturbance and aggressive in defense of their nests. Sometimes merely coming near a nest, especially if it has been disturbed previously, can provoke an attack. Since problems with yellow jackets are most common in the fall, parents, teachers and school staff should be provided with this information soon after school opens.

Reduce Their Food Sources: In early fall, a yellow jacket’s food preference turns to sweets such as sugary drinks, ice cream, and fruit. Their behavior also turns more aggressive and they are more willing to sting. Since garbage is a prime foraging and hunting site for yellow jackets, garbage containers should have tight fitting lids and be regularly cleaned of food waste. Otherwise, the garbage (and the flies around it) becomes a food source for yellow jackets.

Repair windows screens and caulk holes in siding to prevent yellow jackets and other flying insects from entering the building. Playground and building inspections for pests should be conducted monthly to ensure that developing nests are found and removed before they become problematic.

Read more from the University of Florida on yellow jacket and wasp control.  Also check out EPA’s resources on smart, sensible and sustainable pest management in schools.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Prevent Yellow Jackets before They Cause Problems at Your School

Yellow jacket season is upon us.

Yellow jacket season is upon us.

By Marcia Anderson

Along with the azaleas, dogwoods and spring bulbs, yellow jackets have also awakened – just in time for playground and BBQ season. Yellow jackets, wasps and hornets are beneficial insects, but they can be a health hazard due to the reactions that some people have to their painful stings.

Early Action Prevents Later Trouble: You can often avoid severe yellow jacket problems by eliminating workers and nests in late spring and early summer when yellow jacket workers are few and their nests are still small.

If there is a chronic problem with yellow jackets around your school or community playgrounds, picnic areas or fields, inspect the area to locate the nests. Nests can be found in the ground, under eaves and in wall voids of buildings. Ground nests are frequently located under shrubs, logs, rock piles and other protected sites. Entrance holes sometimes have bare earth around them. Nest openings in the ground or in buildings can be recognized by observing the insects entering and leaving. Yellow jacket nests can also be found in fence posts, play equipment and picnic table supports with unsealed openings.

The environmentally preferable way to reduce stinging insects is to use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques. IPM is an effective, environmentally sensitive and sustainable approach to managing pests by combining biological, cultural, physical and chemical tools in a way that minimizes economic, health and environmental risks. Yellow jacket and other stinging insect presence can be significantly reduced when IPM procedures are implemented.

Fence post with hole

Fence posts and hollow rails surrounding playgrounds are common places for yellow jacket nests.

Prevention and Habitat Modification: Given the potential seriousness of stings, the objective of yellow jacket management is to reduce encounters by eliminating their prime foraging habitats through good sanitation practices and awareness. The most effective ways to manage yellow jackets are to reduce their access to food in the vicinity of human activities, and to use physical controls such as nest removal and trapping.

Reduce access to food: Later in the season, yellow jackets are attracted to protein foods. Any food left outdoors, open garbage containers or uncovered compost piles should be removed or covered. Wasps imprint food sources, and will continue to search an area for some time after the food has been removed. All refuse containers should periodically be cleaned of food wastes and should be emptied frequently to prevent the contents from impeding the closure of the lid. Garbage cans should have lids and dumpsters should have vertical spring-loaded swinging doors.

Trapping: Trapping will not eliminate yellow jackets, but can help to reduce their numbers. Various types of traps are baited with liquid or dry attractants and will allow insects to enter, but not escape. Place the traps around the perimeter of the area you want to protect so that you draw the yellow jackets away from the people. Aggressive trapping will significantly reduce the number of fall-foraging yellow jackets and the risk of stings. Do not skimp on the number of traps, as you may need lots of traps to get effective population reduction. Place traps according to the manufacturer’s directions. Empty the traps and change baits frequently to keep the traps effective. Traps should always be placed out of reach of children.

Following these steps in the spring should lead to fewer incidents with yellow jackets and other stinging insects in the late summer and autumn. See Virginia Tech’s website for more information on IPM for yellow jackets and wasps. Also, check out EPA’s website for information on smart, sensible and sustainable pest management in schools.

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Nature in New York City Blooms, Crawls and Creeps, Especially in the Eyes of a Child

By Marcia Anderson

Bee on a flower

Bee on a flower

To a young child, there’s no such thing as an ant, a bee or a ladybug. They’re all bugs and worth a closer look. Lift a small rock. Often worms, tiny beetles, salamanders, or other critters can be uncovered, to the shear amazement of a child. Colonies of ants found under stones are fascinating to watch as they go about their business marching in rows to and from their anthills.

Most ants found in the northeast are not a serious threat to human health. Ants and other insects are usually found where they can obtain food and water to take back to their nests. Ants provide an ecological cleansing and fertilization service of considerable importance. They aerate the soil outdoors and recycle dead animals and vegetable material, and kill many other pest insects including: fly larvae, fleas, caterpillars and termites.

In spring, wasps are important predators of caterpillars, while others are scavengers, helping to control pests and recycle organic material. They turn more aggressive in late summer and fall when their food preference turns to sweets.

Bugs may be small and easily taken for granted, but they are often a child’s first intimate encounter with a wild animal. How they are taught to deal with these small creatures sets the tone for their relationships with larger wildlife such as reptiles, birds and amphibians. Unfortunately, in their zeal to teach children to be wary of dangerous bugs, many adults do not discern between those which are dangerous and those which aren’t. By showing their disdain for all bugs and killing any that cross their paths, many adults inadvertently teach children that all are to be feared and destroyed at every opportunity.

Ants explore a blade of grass

Ants explore a blade of grass

A gentleness and reverence for all creatures should be taught at an early age. It’s important to remember that the younger child learns by modeling, rather than by verbal instruction. A child who’s shown how to put overturned stones back in place to leave insects undisturbed is more likely to take that much more care than a child who’s simply told to do so.

Here are a few safety tips to help young children observe the tiny creatures in the great outdoors:

  1.  Avoid areas with food left outdoors, such as picnic scraps, uncovered garbage containers or uncovered compost piles. Bees and wasps imprint on these food sources and keep returning to them.
  2. Avoid sweet smelling soaps, lotions, or shampoos on both your child and yourself and do not dress up in bright colors. You do not want stinging insects to think that you are a flower or other food source.
  3. In warm weather, use an insect repellent according to the label directions to protect from ticks and mosquitoes. Other alternatives are the mechanical repellent devices that clip onto pockets or belts and they give off repellents that deter mosquitoes or other insects.
  4. Upon returning home, always inspect your child and yourself for ticks or other hitchhikers.

Every park in New York City, large or small, will have some wildlife encounters but be prepared to go down to your child’s level to see them. Just grab a small jar for temporary collecting and a magnifying glass, then get on the subway or bus and explore New York City. Happy Summer!

To find out more about nature in New York City go to: http://www.nycgovparks.org/greening/nature-preserves.

The Forever Wild Program is an initiative of the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation to protect and preserve the most ecologically valuable lands within the five boroughs. These parks encompass 51 Forever Wild Nature Preserves and include over 8,700 acres of forests, wetlands, and meadows. These open spaces are home to thousands of critters, including squirrels, frogs, red-tailed hawks, wild turkeys, fish, bald eagles, and countless plants.

 

 

About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.