Larry Lyons: Yellow jackets are now at their crankiest

Published 8:33 am Thursday, August 6, 2009

A few days ago I stumbled unaware upon a yellow jacket nest. I was instantly nailed twice and they were rallying for a full scale assault. During the sprightly fifty yard dash for the house the entire squadron was still coming on their strafing run. I took one more hit just before I slammed the door behind me.

Most wasps, hornets and bees are capable of stinging but here in the upper Midwest it’s the yellow jacket that is the most common and most aggressive. From now until mid-September when they begin to die off is when they’re the most dangerous. The colony is at its largest and they seem to be their crankiest at this time of year.

Yellow jackets make three types of nests. Aerial nests are the typical gray, paper globes hanging from a tree limb or building rafter. Ground nests are completely underground with the only telltale sign being a one to two inch entrance hole in the ground. The third type is a paper nest tucked away within some form of building structure. In my case they love to build nests behind the fake window shutters attached to the side of the house. Yellow jackets aren’t aggressive when they’re dawdling far from the colony but near the nest it’s a whole different attitude. They sting first and ask questions later, also leaving a chemical scent marker that identifies you as public enemy number one. Then the entire colony follows suit. The first thing to do is get moving and fast. And don’t stop until you reach safe haven for they will press the attack much farther than you’d like.

The best way to eliminate a nest is with an aerosol wasp spray. There are two types, foaming and liquid, both of which shoot about 20 feet. From my experience sprays from established firms such as Raid and Ortho spray a strong, reliable stream and instantly incapacitate the wasps. The bargain brands I’ve tried saved a couple bucks but don’t spray as vigorously and/or don’t always immediately disable the wasps.

Ground nests are the most dangerous because you seldom know it’s there until it’s too late. If you see a number of yellow jackets milling around quietly back off and watch. The wasps come and go from the nest constantly so you’ll likely soon spot the lone entrance hole. Note the precise location of the hole then find something to do elsewhere. There’s a morbid glee knowing that you’re soon to exact revenge for the last time you paid dearly for stumbling onto a hornet nest. By dusk they’ll all be tucked in bed. When it’s just light enough to still see, take a shovel full of dirt and your spray and sneak up within 10 feet or so of the nest. Start squirting the juice down the hole. I like the liquid type for this as the foam type builds up and you can’t keep hosing it in as well. Keep spraying until at least half the can is gone then quickly cover the hole with dirt. Wait a day then go back and observe from a distance. If you didn’t get them all the survivors will make a new entrance hole. If you see any activity, repeat the process at dusk.

For an aerial paper nest or those built on structures again wait until dusk when they’re all at home. Of course, it must be within range of the spray. There will be a single entrance hole near the bottom of the nest. I like to use both the foam and liquid for this job. Squirt as much foam into the entrance hole as you can and then immediately start hosing down the entire nest with the liquid. Keep the entrance hole well foamed with repeat shots as needed as the dieing hornets will be falling out in gobs, taking the foam with them. Completely saturate the nest then wait a day to check success. If the nest is out of range consider hiring a professional. Being perched precariously on a ladder while dealing with hornets is begging for serious injury should things go awry.
Carpe diem.

Larry Lyons writes a weekly outdoor column for Leader Publications. He can be reached at