Fall outdoor party-crashers have arrived | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Fall outdoor party-crashers have arrived

Sally J. Taylor

Not much can ruin a barbecue faster than a swarm of yellow jackets, which are known as meat bees for their appetite for protein.

Ants, mosquitoes and sudden thunderstorms are mere annoyances compared to the yellow jacket’s painful sting – often bestowed on anyone who interrupts their scavenging.

Thanks to a mild spring and ample opportunity for hive populations to increase, the hungry yellow and black-striped wasps are spoiling more parties than usual this year.

“We’re getting about seven to 10 calls a day for the last several weeks,” said Virginia Huber, director of the El Dorado County Department of Environmental Management. “Much more than the last couple (mild) years.”

Unless unusually cold temperatures or an increase in precipitation shortens the season, the invasion of yellow jackets should peak about mid-September.

Through much of the season, yellow jackets can be considered beneficial because they eat smaller insects such as mosquitoes and many that damage gardens.

As fall approaches, they become more aggressive.

With an appetite for protein, yellow jackets, also known as meat bees, can be found swarming around trash cans, barbecue grills and picnic tables.

Later in the season, they start looking for sweets, such as sodas.

Those who interfere with their scavenging – intentionally or accidentally – can become the targets of their painful sting.

Many a picnicker has received an unexpected sting on the lip while absentmindedly sipping a can of soda.

The South Shore is home to five species of yellow jackets, Huber said. Some species build paper nests high up – often attached to house eaves or trees – and those that nest in the ground.

“The ground nesters are the most aggressive and cause most of our trouble,” she said.

Each colony is home base for up to 5,000 workers that care for one queen.

Through mid-summer, the number of colonies increase. About mid-October, the new queens mate then go into hibernation. They are the only ones to survive through the winter.

When the new queens emerge in spring. They each lay 45 to 70 eggs, forage and care for the new broods. Once five to seven have hatched per nest, the new workers take over the work load and the queens do not leave the nest again.

A sudden cold snap in spring, especially while the queens are still foraging, can sharply reduce the yellow jacket population for the year. An early, mild spring, as occurred on the South Shore this year, increases the population and the impact the insects have on the human enjoyment of fall.

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