Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Non-Toxic Approach To Yellow Jackets

by Donna L. Watkins

The Eastern Yellow Jacket is the best known wasp here in Virginia where we live. Yellow Jackets can be found in all of North America with the Western version being identified by the first antennal segment being yellow, rather than black in the Eastern species. They are social insects that live in nests in the ground, or at ground level in stumps and fallen logs.

Yellow jackets feed their young large numbers of insects that might otherwise damage trees or crops, so they are considered beneficial to agriculture. They chew up the insects and feed it to the larva. The insects are very important to our ecosystem and gardens since they eat garden pests and play a role in pollination while the adults feed on flower nectar.

If you find yellow jackets where people and pets won't bother them, it's a good idea to leave them alone. If they are in an area that must be dealt with, there are some solutions below that are less toxic to you, your pets, and the water supply.

In the Spring, a mated female (the queen) will build a new nest that is surrounded by a paper envelope underground. They use rodent burrows or other natural openings for sites. The queen begins laying eggs and daily brings food to the larvae until the first brood matures and those females serve as workers, extending the nest and tending young.

All Summer workers increase in number as the nest also increases in size. In late Summer, males develop from unfertilized eggs and then mate. By Fall there can be thousands of yellow jackets in a nest and this is generally the time of year they become a problem. The odors of meat, fish, and sweet substances are particularly attractive to the wasps. In early Fall, the yellow jackets especially prefer sweet things, as shown in the photos. These were attracted to the very overripe apples that we'd purchased from an orchard for the woodland critters in September.

Most Yellow Jackets, other than the queens, die with the first frost and the nest is abandoned and typically not used again as is the case with hornet nests. Most yellow jackets defend their nests vigorously, and being near a nest means you're likely to get stung. The females sting repeatedly with the Eastern Yellow Jackets being the most aggressive. Those that nest above ground seem to be somewhat less touchy.

When our son, Benjamin, was about 13 years old, he was using the weed eater in the front woods to trim along the paths through the woods. We lived in Alabama at the time. He obviously got near a nest because he came running to the house yelling for help and had bees coming out of his pants and t-shirt. Besides the multitude of bites, my husband and I were slapping him all over to try to get the biting bees off of him so he could get inside.

With the large amount of stings (we later counted 41), we knew we had to get some Lobelia Essence on those bites to draw out the poisons topically and take away the pain, while we had him drinking Vitamin C Ascorbates and taking Licorice Root (a natural cortisone) to prevent allergic reactions. Yucca could also be used in place of Licorice Root.

It's certainly a blessing to keep an Herbal Medicine Chest in our home. It would've been an awful experience for him to have to stay in pain all the way to ER and then get shots. By then, he would've absorbed so much of the toxins into the bloodstream that we would've been concerned about him having serious allergic reactions to bee stings in the future.

Do all you can to stay away from their nests. Don't swat at those that approach you since this provokes them to sting in defense. As much as you can, do not fear bees, because your thoughts instantly create a chemical reaction that is evident on your skin and creates an aggressive behavior pattern in the bees.

Avoid wearing perfume, hair spray, or other scented body care products. Don't wear bright red, orange, or yellow clothes which can attract yellow jackets. They can be persistent, clever and difficult to manage, but that doesn't mean you should reach for a spray can to deal with the problem.

When I fell in love with God's Creation, I got over my fear of buzzing, creepy, and crawly things. That's obvious from these photos since I was within a few inches of them to get the detailed close-ups. I focused on their awesome design and diligent work ethic, and they focused on eating. The word 'co-existence' came to mind.

Obviously that can't always be the case if you've got pets and small children running around, but that's all the more reason why you don't want to spray poison, besides considering the birds, earth and water supply.

If you can find the opening at night with a flashlight, you can place a transparent bowl firmly onto the ground. The adults will be confused by their inability to escape and seek food in daylight. They will not dig a new escape hole and will soon starve to death. Not a pretty mental picture, but poisonous chemicals don't create a pretty picture either.

There are other pesticide-free alternatives. If you are doubtful about effectiveness, search for information online about Waterfront Park Baseball Stadium in New Jersey. In only 5 days they emptied the stadium of 70,000 yellow jackets in a non-poisonous way.

Traps can be an effective, pesticide-free method for managing yellow jackets and they can be purchased or homemade. You'll find some examples online at and In some areas of the country there are people who will collect yellow jackets, hornets and other wasps for medical labs who use them for sting allergic patients (see


Anonymous said...

The whole herbal medicine approach to dealing with a possible allergic reaction to a bee sting is irresponsible and idiotic. Wait until you get your kid to the hospital for shots? MORON.

sharingsunshine said...

We lived rural and I would say if we'd chosen to go the hospital route, we may have never made it. We used what we had at hand and what's been already scientifically proven to avoid a severe allergic reaction. I'd also been told by others about the Lobelia and the instant relief from it.

I would hate to think he would've had to live with that pain for 45 minutes until we arrived at the hospital plus whatever time it took them to process us in.

I've not been to an Emergency Room at a hospital for a long time, but every story I hear about them is that you sit around for a long time to even be helped. Regardless, the choice we made proved sensible and effective for our situation.

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