EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT YELLOWJACKETS AND HOW TO AVOID GETTING STUNG
Yellowjackets can BEE quite the BUZZkill during summer in Germany!
From age seven until 19, I used to go on week-long camping trips each year in August. At mealtime, I meticulously maneuvered my fork and knife around an average of five wasps that were simultaneously clambering all over my food, on a daily basis. I also rescued countless ones from drowning in my cup.
Guess how many times I got stung over the years? Once. Because I accidentally stepped on one.
So, while these little critters are quite pesty in the summer, there sure are ways to prevent getting attacked and still enjoy some quality time outside – including ice cream and other meals.
However, wasps are not the only animals in Germany that could ruin your summer. Check out Why Dancing Through German Meadows Could Kill You, to find out what else to look for.
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IT’S ALL JUST SMOKE AND MIRRORS
First off, not every flying insect with black and yellow stripes is a yellowjacket.
Some insects have evolved to use what’s called mimicry for protection, which means they look like another, more dangerous animal, to scare off predators.
It’s as if 76-year-old auntie Beth were meandering, showcasing a shaved head, wearing all black, and toting a baseball bat to look more like a toughie than the sweet, crochet-loving polish-pottery-hoarder she is.
It doesn’t make her more malicious, but it might keep muggers from snapping up her purse when she’s out and about.
Enter hoverfly. This sweet, stinger-less flyer looks like a teensy-weensy, slender wasp that can hover in one spot while making a slightly higher-pitched buzzing noise than the original.
Not all black and yellow insects that aren’t yellowjackets are harmless, though.
Take hornets for example. They will sting you if provoked. The animals vary in size, depending on their social status of either queen, worker, or drone. They measure between 18 and 35 millimeters/0.7 and 1.4 inches and thus are larger than yellowjackets. They also sport red or brownish-red heads and bodies, along with a yellow and black behind.
NO REST FOR THE WICKED
The month of May initiates nest building in yellowjackets. This is when you see some isolated ones scoping out your window frames, Rollläden, wooden outdoor furniture, and roof in hopes of finding a secure spot.
If you hear chewing noises coming from that area soon after: congratulations – you’re getting new neighbors. I will tell you what to do about yellowjackets’ nests later, so continue reading.
In late summer – starting in August – the striped insects, which are then at the peak of their population, no longer have to rear their offspring. They get bored and rummage around for sugary foods, fruits, and protein, to pass time.
Just getting some me-time in after being done raising their little striplings. I feel ya, little wasps – parenting is no piece of cake! So grab a piece. You deserve it.
Next time you’re about to swat at one (which, by the way, is something you should never do – but we’ll get to that later), remember that it’s likely just an overly tired foster parent, trying to fit in some well-deserved self-care after raising its queen’s brood – so maybe offer them a martini and a backrub instead.
In October/November the queen and workers die off. Both, future queens (fertile females) and drones (males) then leave their nest, which doesn’t get reused, and mate with the offspring of other populations.
After copulation, the drones die and the young queens fly off to cast around for a secure hibernation spot, like tree cavities, quiet attics, or hidden holes in the ground.
ARE YELLOWJACKETS USEFUL?
Abso-buzzing-lutely – they’re the bees’ knees. (Badumm – tsss! Did it again!)
They are a key part of the ecosystem, which is why they are a protected species and mustn’t be killed. They eat backyard pests, like caterpillars, aphids, or mosquitos (and right away they seem a lot more likable, don’t they?), and even carrion!
HELP, THERE’S A NEST!
Yellowjacket nests can be anywhere: in the attic, under the roof, in empty cabinets, abandoned drawers, or close to windows and patios.
However, these animals are not very neighborly and if you wander into their flight path, they’ll see you as a threat and will attack – possibly by stinging you multiple times in a row.
During the defense, they also release pheromones to attract their peers for help! So, this can get hazardous in a flash – especially for kids or if you’re allergic.
On the other hand, if you don’t get close to their home, they won’t show much interest in you.
So, depending on its location, think about whether you really need to have the nest removed. If so, remember that it is prohibited to do so yourself and the fine for destroying a yellowjackets’ nest is roughly 5,000 Euro in most German states (and up to 50,000 Euro for hornets’ nests).
Contrary to popular belief, firefighters won’t help you with this, so instead, call pest control who will then relocate the nest if possible.
JUST LET THEM BEE – NINE TIPS TO AVOID GETTING STUNG
- Don’t make any swift or sudden movements so the animals don’t feel threatened. Don’t swat at them.
- Don’t blow on them! CO2 is a trigger that makes them feel threatened and thus makes them more aggressive.
- If you’re eating outside, cover your food and drinks and remove any scraps as soon as possible.
- Wipe your kids’ mouths after they’re done munching.
- Sacrifice some food scraps (overly ripe grapes work best) and put them about five to ten meters/16-33 feet away from where you’re eating to distract them.
- If they do land on your food, let them be. They will use their mouthparts to chop off a little bite and schlepp it away.
- Don’t use perfume or strongly scented body lotions.
- Avoid wearing colorful clothing.
- Put up screens to keep them out of the house, for example: tesa Insect Stop STANDARD Fliegengitter für Fenster* for windows or Apalus Magnet Fliegengitter Tür* for doors.
COULD THEY BEE ANY CUTER?
A few years ago, I had a nest in my house wall. The entrance was through a cranny right by my bedroom window.
I put up a screen and watched the little critters hurry-scurry in and out every day, which was a lot more entertaining than expected.
One day, they set out to drag a blade of grass into their nest. One of them showed up with it and then attempted to tug it in from the inside, which didn’t work. So, it tried pushing – also with no success. Over time, more and more of its peers came along to help, and somehow, over the course of 30 minutes, a handful of yellowjackets managed to get it in, with some of them shoving from the outside, others pulling from the inside and one yelling “PIVOT”.
Me. It was me. I might have gotten quite invested there.
So, next time a yellowjacket lands on your German strawberry tart or Currywurst, just stay calm and remember, they’re hard-working animals that deserve a little treat after being yelled at by a human while struggling to decorate their home.