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Fall may bring more aggressive hornets and wasps

Aggressive Hornets, Wasps and Bees in the Fall

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By fall, the nests of yellow jackets (left) and hornets (right) have reached maximum size and can contain thousands of family members.

Depending on where you live, you may notice a bit more aggression from hornets and wasps these days. This is due to the change in season and the life cycle of the insects and their nests, experts say.

For example, in Wisconsin, wasps and hornets are keeping exterminators busy by infesting awnings, gutters and decks, the Fon Du Lac Reporter notes. Fall is a key time for wasp activity, entomologist Patrick Liesch, who runs the Insect Diagnostic Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, tells the Reporter: “The cycle begins with a few wasps who start nests from scratch early in spring, and they remain relatively calm and go unnoticed. By fall, nests reach maximum size and can contain thousands of family members.” 

Crowding and a diminishing food supply could cause wasps to be more aggressive to anyone that seems to be a threat to their colony. Additionally, insects are cold-blooded and seek the heat, which leads them to buildings, including homes. It is important to call a professional to deal with nests in or near your house, especially for older people, who should avoid getting stung.

Beware of yellow jackets with a sweet tooth

Howard Russell, an entomologist at Michigan State University, told the Times Herald in Michigan that yellow jackets are in a foul fall mood. “As things wind down in the fall, they become rather aggressive. One reason is the last brood they raised are next year’s queens,” he said. “Those are the future of the colony, so they tend to be more protective.”

Their diet changes, as well, Russell said. “Most of the summer, they’re predators and feed on other insects. In the fall they kind of develop a sweet tooth. Fermenting fruit, adult beverages, colas, fruit juice, all become super attractive to them.”

Avoiding and treating stings

Stay clear of areas that will attract the stinging bugs, including apple orchards and cider mills, picnic areas, outdoor restaurant seating and backyard barbecues. If one does fly in your path, resist the natural instinct to swat, experts say. Swinging at the insect may cause it to sting and some release a pheromone that alerts the nest of danger, possibly drawing more attackers. Also, watch out for hives and nests when operating lawn mowers. 

If attacked by several stinging insects at once, run to get away from them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and try to get indoors.

The health effects of stings range from mild discomfort or pain to a lethal allergic reaction, according to the CDC. Thousands of people are stung each year, and approximately 100 die as a result of allergic reactions. 

CDC recommendations to avoid being stung include:

  • Wear light-colored, smooth-finished clothing.
  • Avoid perfumed smells, including in soaps, shampoos and deodorants.
  • Avoid flowering plants when possible.
  • If a bee or wasp comes inside your vehicle, stop the car slowly, and open all the windows.

First aid for stings

  • Wash the site with soap and water.
  • Remove the stinger using gauze wiped over the area or by scraping a fingernail over the area.
  • Never squeeze the stinger or use tweezers.
  • Apply ice to reduce swelling.
  • Do not scratch the sting, as this may increase swelling, itching and risk of infection.
  • People with a history of severe allergic reactions should consider carrying an epinephrine auto injector (EpiPen) and wearing a medical ID stating their allergy, according to the CDC.

Wasps do provide benefits to people, acting as a natural pest control by feeding on other insects and helping flower pollination. So if a nest is not immediately near your home, it may be best to leave it alone. Nature will also eventually resolve the problem, with cold weather or frost eventually killing the insects.

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