An Abundance of Stinging Insects

K. S. Brooks
Staff Writer

For the past few weeks, it seems like hornets, wasps, and yellowjackets have been pretty much everywhere, and they are being “aggressive,” as some folks have said. However, according to Richard S. Zack, a Professor of Entomology at Washington State University, “This is probably a pretty normal yellowjacket year in terms of numbers. Though, the numbers have been moving up a little over the last few years.”
Since neither the Washington Department of Health nor the Northeast Tri-County Health District keeps bee sting statistics, it’s difficult to know whether those incidents are on the rise. Dr. Liz Dykstra, the Public Health Entomologist for the State of Washington, said that one reason for the perceived upswing in activity could be the weather. “As a rule – within a certain temperature range, their reproduction capacity as far as lifecycle and producing young would go up – it’s the same with mosquitoes – the egg to larvae to adult stages accelerate the warmer it is in the temperature range acceptable to them.”
While locals seem to feel that yellowjackets are being more persistent, Professor Zack said that doesn’t mean they’re being aggressive. “…there are just more of them and people run into them more often. …At this time of the year, workers will often start to look more and more for sugar and fermenting items (such as fruit – these wasps are usually predators). Again, when they visit fruit on trees, fallen fruit, or picnics, they come into contact more and more with people.”
Dr. Dykstra suggested that residents follow some simple rules to help discourage these stinging insects. “If there does seem to be an abundance, then they are finding enough food to feed on. It could be that people are leaving out sugary drinks this time of year – they’re looking for energy – so keep trash bags closed and cans lidded so there’s no easy access to food.”
According to the 14-page Homeowner Guide to Yellowjackets, Bald-Faced Hornets, and Paper Wasps published by the University of Idaho’s Extension in Moscow, Idaho, there are a number of things you can do to stay safe when you’re sharing space with these insects. Minimizing use of perfumes, wearing light-colored clothing, and, as Dr. Dykstra suggested, reducing the insects’ access to food and water are advised. The comprehensive study, which also covers repellents, traps, and more, can be found by Googling “Homeowner Guide to Yellowjackets University of Idaho.
When asked about the homemade cat food trap, Dr. Dykstra said that one is recommended. As an experiment, two neighbors in Chewelah tried the cold-cuts-on-a-string-over-water type trap, and the other tried the cat-food-on-wood-slats-over-water trap. The cat food trap won hands-down. According to the University of Idaho guide, “Four to six traps … around the perimeter of the yard at least 20 feet away from people are enough for most home yards.”
To make one of the cat food traps, place a small container of water with a couple of drops of dish soap in it on a flat surface. Take some wooden slats and slather one side with cat food. Then turn that side down so it faces the water, and lay it across the top of the container. Insects will eat the cat food, then try to fly away, and end up in the water. Make certain all the stinging bugs are dead before you skim them from the container.