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MMWD Blog: Think Blue Marin

Welcome to our blog! Written by staff at MMWD, “Think Blue Marin” explores all things water in south and central Marin—water supplies, conservation, new projects, watershed management, and more.

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Oct 26

Invasion

Posted on October 26, 2017 at 5:03 PM by Ann Vallee

by Charlene Burgi

Halloween is only days away. This event conjures up visions of little ones dressed as ghosts and goblins toting pumpkin-shaped candy carriers as they invade the neighborhoods seeking treasures. All is done in fun for the trick or treat.

Yellow JacketThe invasion I experienced here in Lassen did not involve costumed children. Instead, these tricksters sported shades of black and yellow along with wings. Specifically, this invasion found a dozen yellow jackets flying around my master bathroom this week—a visit I wouldn’t necessarily consider a treat! 

But, believe it or not, the discovery aroused my curiosity to learn more about the life cycle of these stinging marauders. Why did these yellow jackets just show up? Why did they seem so lethargic, and why did they find themselves in that room only?

In my research, I learned that the hives are comprised of workers, males and the queen. I was surprised to learn that the life cycle of these unwelcome guests only lasts for a year, after which the hives are not reused. Given that knowledge, I could only assume these must have been the workers. Their job for the season was complete; their life cycle was ending. A few days later, several more yellow jackets showed up in the same room. They were more aggressive and a bit larger than the earlier visitors, so I assumed these might be the males of the hive. The queen has yet to emerge; I understand she can be more easily identified as she sports black dots along both sides of her black-and-yellow striped abdomen and is much larger than her counterparts.

From my days at the plant nursery, I remembered that the yellow jacket diet makes them high-protein meat eaters in the spring and carb eaters in the late summer months. As you have probably experienced, these invaders can do a lot to disrupt a picnic or barbeque. How often have you found that distinctive buzz in a can of soda where the sugars of the carbs were the big attractors? Oft times we would set apart a jug containing bacon on a string that hovered over a soapy solution to draw these pests away from our outdoor meal. 

Yet, there are some redeeming qualities to be appreciated about yellow jackets. They are beneficials who will eat the harmful insects and caterpillars that may be eating your plants. But be cautious as they can sting you multiple times. Once they set up their one-year residency in the eaves of your home or attic, they can be tricky to eliminate. My studies suggest waiting until early spring to eradicate the new nest when there is only one queen to contend with and before the eggs she laid come to maturity. Or, wait until dark and spray the nest when the hive is together. 

This is one home to approach with trepidation. Will I find a trick or a treat?

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