It’s fall. The leaves are changing, the days are getting cooler, and… are the insects really bad?
If you’ve noticed an uptick in activity and general annoyance from insects of a stinging variety – mainly yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps – you’re not alone.
“It’s not imaginary,” said Joe Boggs, an entomologist with Ohio State University’s Buckeye Yard and Garden Online. “The populations are very high.”
Boggs is careful to note that while they do sting, yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps are beneficial insects on the balance, thanks to their eating of plant pests.
“Their behavior is only bad late in the season,” he added.
At this point in the season, Boggs said all insects in yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets,s, and paper wasp hives have completed development, and colonies are at their maximum size, leading to increased activity in and outside their homes.
Soon, queens and drones from the hives will fly off and mate, and the queen will go to find a protective location to survive the winter. After the queen leaves and the weather turns colder, Boggs said eventually every insect left in the hive will freeze to death.
“Their Achilles’ heel is the winter,” Boggs said. “The entire nest dies, so it’s really a matter of waiting them out. If you have a problem right now, you can just wait and let nature take its course.”
These nests only last one season and new nests will pop up in the spring, depending on where the new queen starts one, and Boggs said they are seldom near the location where the queen grew up.
The number of yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps each year is also dependent on the severity of previous winters as well as how many queens were able to survive and produce new colonies the following spring.
How to tell the difference between yellow jackets, bald-faced hornets and paper wasps
All three species are under the category of social wasps that produce colonies each year with only the malted queen surviving the winter, according to Plunkett’s Pest Control.
Yellow jackets are the smallest of the three, at around a half-inch in length, and are often mistaken for honeybees because of the yellow markings on their bodies. Their nests are often found below ground.
Bald-faced hornets are around three-quarters of an inch long, with black bodies and gray bands. Their nests are typically large and enclosed, containing over 100 hornets inside.
Paper wasps are around 1-inch long with long legs and can range in color, from reddish-orange to black, sometimes with yellow highlights. Their nests are typically umbrella-shaped and have fewer than 100 wasps in a colony.
While busy, these insects are mainly searching for sugar to bring back to the hive to use as food and are typically not aggressive when encountered outside their homes.
However, disturbing the hive is a different story, Boggs said. Yellowjackets, bald-faced hornets, and paper wasps are able to sting multiple times unlike European honeybees, and are most aggressive when defending their nests.
“If you go after the nest, they will literally fight to the death,” Boggs said.