Yellow Jacket Wasp – Aggression and Understanding

Yellow Jacket Wasp – Aggression and Understanding

It is late summer and many of us enjoy being outdoors in the landscape and taking early morning walks before the temperature rises for the day.  There are precautions to take while being outdoors and the activities as many insects are very active, including the yellow jacket.  Late summer and many of us being outdoor brings us increases the change of being stung by this insect.  The Yellow Jacket sting can be painful and potential dangerous to certain individuals with strong reactions to stings.

Yellowjackets are pollinators and eat caterpillar pests! Credit: Whitney Crenshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

In the State of Florida there are two species of this Yellow Jacket Wasp, the Eastern Yellow Jacket and the Southern Yellow Jacket.  It is difficult to distinguish between them and for this article I will refer to them as Yellow Jackets.  Yellow Jackets most often colonize in the ground and are often found in lawns that tend to stay dry, landscape beds and edge of woodlands.  Colonies of this flying insect can grow into hundreds or even larger numbers.  Often by observation in morning or evening light the entry and exit point of the nest can be see with some luck.  It looks like an extremely busy airport with lots of landings and departures.  The unfortunate way to find the nest can occur by mowing the lawn disturbing the nest with many yellow jackets emerging from the nest to protect it.  The colony quickly goes into defense mode with vibrations occurring nearby.  This has occurred with me on more than one occasion.  All modesty can be lost while run away from the nesting area with several yellow jackets stinging you move quickly move away.  Clothing has been known to be shed to hopefully remove the yellow jackets busily stinging either under or on the outside of clothing.    

yellowjacket nest
Southern yellowjacket, Vespula squamosa (Drury), nest dug from ground. Credit: Gerald J. Lenhard; http://www.insectimages.org/

During the early part of the spring and summer season yellow jackets are busy foraging for protein sources to feed to queen and young larvae.  During the consuming of the insects, with many of those harvested being harmful insects to plants.  The yellow jackets derive their sugar sources from the larvae secretions as they consume the proteins provided.  This is part of the reason we do not often see Yellow Jackets in late spring and early summer.  As the queen begins to reduce the amount of egg laying, hence the less numbers of larvae to feed and harvest the sugar for a wasp population at its peak creates a more aggressive need to find alternate sources of sugar.   This is part of the reason why yellow jackets show up in greater numbers at outdoor sporting events and other places to look for additional sugar sources.   Sugar water for hummingbirds is another backyard site for yellow jackets to work hard for the sugar.  Even the birds are careful about approaching the feeders. 

I do not advocate the destruction of yellow jacket nesting sites unless they are in proximity to human activity as this can set the situation of stings and potential health challenges for people.  If you identify a nest location do not approach and call a company that specializes in addressing these types of stinging insects.  Keep in mind that this insect provides a benefit in harvest of many harmful pests to plants yet do pose a potential threat.  Be observant as you garden situations that seemed fine last month may have changed quickly.

Stinging Hymenopterans – Medical importance.

Stinging Hymenopterans – Medical importance.

Introduction

Summertime is known for cookouts, barbeque, a stroll through the park or even in your backyard; Be aware of stinging insects. These pests are especially active during the second half of summer and early fall when the colonies forage for food to sustain their queens during the winter. Although many are beneficial pollinators they often pose a danger because of their sting. While some of these stings causes minor reactions, others can pose a serious heath threat, which makes them medically important. These stinging hymenopterans includes wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, velvet ants, Africanized and European honey bee and fire ants.

 

Unique /Important Traits of this group of insects.

Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida

Yellow jackets, paper wasps, and bald-faced hornets can sting multiple times causing allergic reactions. The female velvet ants have a very potent sting that has earned them the nickname “cow-killer.” Unlike Wasps, hornets, and yellow jackets, honey bees only sting once and lose their barbed stinger killing the bee within minutes talk about a sacrifice. Africanized honey bees are dangerous stinging insects that have been known to chase people for over quarter of a mile once they get excited and aggressive, earning the name “killer bee”. Imported fire ants both bite and sting repeatedly, and envenomation (injecting venom) only occurs through the sting.

Solitary vs. Eusocial
Most wasps and bees are solitary – being alone or in solitude, and do not defend their nests, but will sting in defense if caught. On the contrary, the eusocial group, especially ants, bees, and wasps, will display territorial behavior and it is mostly these groups that cause medically significant stings.

 

Photograph by James L. Castner, University of Florida

What makes Hymenopterans important medically?
Unlike the male, the female Hymenoptera possess specialized stinging apparatus used to inject their venom into prey’s or intruder’s body. Entomologist Justin O. Schmidt’s knows about this all too well, he records his own experience of venomous stings and rate it on a pain scale index ranging from 1- 4, with four being the most painful. It could be life-threatening for people sensitive to the venom. While most stings cause only minor problems, stings cause a significant number of deaths.

What are some possible reactions after the stings?
Local reactions (pain, small edema, redness at the site of the sting); regional reactions, (extensive local swelling, exceeding 10 cm, persisting longer than 24 hours). Systemic anaphylactic responses – most dangerous of the reactions. Symptoms may include itching, rashes or hives, tightness or swelling in the throat, stomach pain, nausea and vomiting and dizziness. More severe cases the individual may experience severe shortness of breath, a drop-in blood pressure, loss of consciousness. Even though some of these reactions are mild about 3% of people ends up the emergency room each year from symptoms related to stings. Some may result in death of the individual.

Treatment/ Preventative Measures
What to do?
Capture the organism, if possible, for identification; allergy desensitization shots; sting removal; hive removal (certified handler); antihistamine (oral or parenteral) and epinephrine by inhalation or epinephrine by injection.

For more information, please contact your local county extension office.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publications/websites below:
Differences Between European and African Honey Bees: IN784-9221465.pdf (ufl.edu); Stinging or Venomous Insects and Related Pests: IG099-D1czi7xu65.pdf (ufl.edu) ;
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17265905
https://extension.entm.purdue.edu/publichealth/insects/stinging.htm

The Very Rare Pseudoscorpion

The Very Rare Pseudoscorpion

Sometimes the tiniest creatures can freak you out! One creature that may give you the chills is the pseudoscorpion. Pseudoscorpions are arachnids like other traditional scorpions, but they lack the stinging tail. They can range from 2 to 8 millimeters in length, so they often go unnoticed. Pseudoscorpions have four pairs of legs and two body regions. In addition to their legs, they possess a pair of pincer-like claws called pedipalps. Pseudoscorpions are light brown in color and are teardrop shaped similar to a tick. Their pedipalps are about twice as long as their body regions.

An adult pseudoscorpion. Photo Credit: Steve Jacobs, Sr. – Penn State Extension

Pseudoscorpions are often found in bathroom sinks and tubs and are not dangerous. They eat small arthropods such as caterpillars, flies, ants, beetle larvae, and booklice. Most species are tropical, but they can be found throughout the continental United States.

Female pseudoscorpions produce 20 to 40 eggs, at one time, that they carry beneath their abdomens. After the eggs hatch, the young stay with their mother for several days. Sometimes they ride on her back during this time. Adult pseudoscorpions can live up to four years.

If anything, pseudoscorpions are beneficial, as they are predators of nuisance insects. It is not recommended to use pesticides to control these arachnids.

Going bats for insect control

Going bats for insect control

The Case for Bats

Biological control is a pillar of integrated pest management.  It may seem a bit daunting the principle is simple.  All things in nature have predators including insects.  Biological control is simply building a conducive environment for the predators of undesired pests.  One animal not often thought of in this capacity is bats.  Insectivores by nature, these underutilized creatures have a big impact to your open spaces.  Their steady diet of moths (Lepidoptera), beetles (Coleoptera) and flies (Diptera, which includes mosquitoes) reduce insect pressure to your gardens and landscaping.

I know what you are thinking.  How effective can they possibly be?  Pregnant females consume up to two thirds of their body weight through the summer months while rearing pups.  Bats are small but keep in mind that these are not solitary animals.  In south Texas, a single large colony consumes enough insects to save cotton farmers an estimated $741,000 per year in insecticides.  That is just to illustrate the point as you won’t be able to attract huge colony.  There is no reason to believe a smaller colony will not provide similar services in your gardens.

Habitat

Now that your interest is piqued, how can you attract bats to your property?  Installing a bat house is the easiest way.  They are typically a two foot by one foot structure holding single or multiple chambers in which bats roost.  It provides shelter from predation and weather while providing a place to rear pups.  Though commercially available they may be built at home with minimal cost.  Place the bat house in a location with morning sun at least 12 feet off the ground.  Ensure there is enough airflow around the house to keep them cool, but that the structure is watertight.  Mount houses on poles next to buildings and you’ll have better success attracting residents.  With everything in place, it is time to discover who will most likely be your new neighbor.

bathouse on pole

photo: Joshua Criss

 

The Bats of North Florida

Florida is home to 13 species of bats statewide.  Of these, 11 may be found in the Panhandle but only 3 are common enough to be routinely seen.  The Brazilian free-tailed bat (Tadarida brasiliensis) is the most common.  Medium sized with brown fur, they have a long tail, wrinkled cheeks, and roost in man-made structures.

Brazillian free tail bat

Photo: IFAS

Second most common are Evening bats (Nycticeius humeralis).  These dark brown to yellow bats have short ears with a broad hairless muzzle.  They are tolerant of other bat species often roosting in tandem with them.

Evening bat

Photo: IFAS

Finally, the panhandle is home to Southeastern Myotis (Myotis austroriparius).  Easily the smallest of these bats, they are dull gray to brown with a lighter belly and long hairs between their toes.  This species is the bat most likely to eat mosquitoes.

Southeastern Myotis

Photo: Jeff Gore, FWC

Finally, the panhandle is home to Southeastern Myotis (Myotis austroriparius).  Easily the smallest of these bats, they are dull gray to brown with a lighter belly and long hairs between their toes.  This species is the bat most likely to eat mosquitoes.

A Word of Caution

No article on wildlife would be complete without a word of caution.  Bats are wild animals and should be treated as such.  Never touch a bat on the ground as it most likely is not healthy.  Bats do not generally cause issues but have been known to be disease vectors.  Call a professional to collect the animal and never bring it into your home.

Bats can be a wonderful tool in controlling pests on your property.  Creating habitat can help reduce pesticide need and cost to the homeowner.  For more information on bats, see this Ask IFAS document, or contact your local extension agent for additional information on this and any topic regarding your gardens and more.

 

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE Program Summary: Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers

 

 

 

 

The Q&A on Native Pollinators and their Favorite Flowers offered valuable information on many types of flowers that feed our many species of pollinators in Northwest FL.  Below are the reference materials related to specific questions that were asked along with notes from the panel discussions.

 

  • Stephen Greer was asked which garden perennials are best for pollinators, he mentioned that Blanketflower, Cardinal Flower, Black Eyed Susan were his top three.

 

  • Julie McConnell was asked, what are some shrubs to benefit birds and pollinators? She stated that insects forage off lawn grasses, but good shrubs are Wax Myrtle, Saw Palmetto, American Beautyberry, Vibernum and Holly Species. Sandy Soil Pollinators: Firebush, Holly, Saw Palmetto, all drought tolerant and good for pollinators.

 

 

 

  • What about Winter Pollinator Plants?
    • Winter: Mahonia, Fatsia, both good plants for pollinators in shady areas, also Beth added that winter vegetables help pollinators in the winter, such as carrot, wild radish, provide forage for bees, bumblebees and plasterer bees, carpenter bees. Matt Lollar said daikon radish is another good pollinator plant for fall and winter.

 

  • Question from Facebook: Are Loquat trees good for pollinators. How large do they get and when do they bloom? Do they need shade or full sun?

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Better access to native plants: Florida Native Plant Society
    • https://www.fnps.org/
    • There are Native Plant Nurseries in Bay and Leon County, you can find them on google.
    • Some Master Gardner Volunteer programs sell native plants at their sales!

 

  • Stephen: What methods have been successful to approach HOA’s to approve of Native plants in homeowner’s properties?
    • Build consensus about native plants before the meeting.
    • Covenants or Bylaws. Covenants are less enforceable, Bylaws have enforcement ability.

 

  • Beth: Do we need to supply water for pollinators? YES!

 

 

 

 

 

This episode of Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! is available to watch at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGl4kGYEEs4.

Spring into Action- Pollinators

Spring into Action- Pollinators

As spring approaches, are we thinking about pollinators?  How often do we stop to think of the importance of pollinators to food security?

Pollination is often described as the transfer of pollen grains from the anther to the stigma of a flowering plant.  These transfers are made possible due to pollinator visits in exchange of pollen and nectar from the plants.

Who are our pollinators?

Main Global Pollinators

Social                                                                          Solitary

Honeybees                                                                  Alfalfa leafcutter bee

Bumble bees                                                               Mason bees

Stingless bees                                                             Other leafcutter bees

How can we care for pollinators?

Photo by Donna Arnold

We can care for our pollinators by growing plants that have abundant and accessible pollen and nectar.

Choose plants with flat flowers or short to medium-length flowers tubes (corollas), and limit plants with long flower tubes such as honey suckle.

Avoid plant varieties that do not provide floral rewards (pollen), which is the essential food source for bees. (e.g., some sunflower, and lilies).

Many native wild bees have relatively short proboscises, or tongues, and may not be able to access nectar from flowers with long tubes; however, flowers with long floral tubes can attract other pollinators with long tongues or beaks such as butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.

Are we creating an ecosystem aesthetically pleasing while attracting pollinators?

UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones

The planting of native wildflower in Florida can benefit agricultural producers likewise, native pollinators and other beneficials such as parasitoids and predators. Some of the main benefits of growing native wildflower are:

  • Increasing wild bee presence in the surroundings.
  • Providing nesting and foraging sites for pollinators, butterflies, bees etc.
  • Increasing natural enemies of pest insects.

It is important to select mix varieties of native wildflower when restoring habitats for our pollinators. Mix varieties will flower all year round and make available continuous supply of nectar and pollen. If possible, use wildflower seeds that are produced in the state that you want to carry out pollinators’ restoration. It is highly likely that one will experience better growth from locally produced seeds because they will adapt better to regional growing conditions and the climate.  For optimum flowering and high production of floral rewards such as pollen and nectar. Place wildflowers in areas free of pesticide and soil disturbance.

Most bee species are solitary, and 70% of these solitary bees’ nest in the ground.  A wildflower area of refuge can fulfill the shelter resource needs of these bees since that area will not undergo regular tilling, thus minimizing nest disturbance.

Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publications (Common Native Wildflowers of North Florida) visit : https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/EP/EP061/EP061-15448828.pdf and Attracting Native Bees to Your Florida Landscape  IN125500.pdf (ufl.edu.