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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Julie says she also recommends Firespike, Goldenrod, Cardinal Flower, Saltbush,
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?
As you garden this fall, check out the North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide, compiled by UF/IFAS Leon County Extension.
Getting into vegetable gardening, but don’t know where to start?
Even experienced gardeners know there’s always more to learn. To help both beginners and advanced gardeners find answers to their questions, the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office put together the North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide. It incorporates multiple resources, including articles, planting calendars, photos, and UF/IFAS EDIS publications.
The North Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide covers the many aspects of vegetable gardening, including how to get started, site selection, insects and biodiversity in the garden, soil testing, composting, cover crops in the garden, irrigation, and more.
You can click here to view the digital version of the guidebook. We also have physical copies of the guide available at the UF/IFAS Leon County Extension Office (615 Paul Russell Rd., Tallahassee, FL 32301).
Coastal plain honeycombhead blooms through the summer and early fall on local beaches. Photo credit, Bob Pitts, National Park Service
Over my years of leading people on interpretive trail hikes, I have learned it is particularly important to know the names of the plants that are in bloom. These flowers are eye-catching, and inevitably someone will ask what they are. In fact, one of my favorite wildflower identification books is categorized not by taxonomy, but by bloom color—with a rainbow of tabs down the edge of the book for easy identification.
Wildflower identification can be tough, but color-coded guidebooks are really helpful! Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
In our coastal dunes right now, several plants are showing off vibrant yellow blooms. Seaside goldenrod, coreopsis, and other asters are common. Rarer, and the subject of today’s post, is the Coastal Plain Honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia). It has bright yellow flowers, but often gets more notice due to its unusual appearance when not in bloom. The basal leaves are bright green and similar in shape and arrangement to a pine cone or bottlebrush (albeit a tiny one), sticking straight up in the sand. The plants are typically found on the more protected back side of primary dunes or further into secondary dunes, a little more inland from the Gulf.
When not in bloom, the plant resembles a green pinecone planted in the sand. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension
The plant plays a special role in beach ecology, as a host plant for Gulf fritillary butterflies and the Gulf Coast solitary bee (Hesperapis oraria). The bee is a ground-dwelling pollinator insect that forages only in the barrier islands of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. The species is currently the subject of a University of Florida study, as the endemic bee’s sole source of nectar and pollen is the honeycombhead flower. As of publication date, no bee nests have been discovered. Researchers are interested in learning more about the insect’s life cycle and nesting behaviors to better understand and protect its use of local habitats. Based on closely related species, it is believed the Gulf Coast solitary bee builds a multi-chambered nest under the soft sands of the dunes.
Adult female Hesperapis oraria foraging on coastal plain honeycombhead (Balduina angustifolia). Photograph by John Bente, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Park Service.
While the honeycombhead plant is found in peninsular Florida and coastal Georgia, the bee has been identified only in a 100 km² area between Horn Island, MS, and St. Andrews Bay, FL. Luckily for the bee, large swaths of this land are preserved as part of Gulf Islands National Seashore and several state parks. Nonetheless, these coastal dune habitats are threatened by hurricanes, sea level rise, and development (outside the park boundaries). Due to its rarity and limited habitat, a petition has been submitted to the Fish and Wildlife Service for protection under the Endangered Species Act.
While most people are familiar with the European honey bee, the domesticated insect that pollinates our crops and provides us with honey, there are plenty of other species of bees and their relatives out there. Most of them are harmless, spending their time quietly pollinating plants, including our crops. Their presence in the landscape, however, may cause some alarm, as it can be difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish between aggressive species and those that are innocuous.
The entrance to a miner bee burrow.
Homeowners may occasionally note small mounds of soil in sandy areas of their lawns. Sometimes sporting a small hole in the center, these are the nesting sites of solitary, ground-nesting bees or hornets. Miner bees or digger bees build underground chambers, usually in well-drained, otherwise bare areas of sandy soil. Multiple bees may choose to dig their nests in the same location, though each bee makes its own tunnel and they do not live communally. Each bee lays her eggs in the nest she has excavated. She gathers pollen to feed the young when they hatch, stocks the larder, and leaves. When the young emerge from the nest, they fly away and do not remain; they will dig their own nests when they are ready to reproduce. While there is no need to control these insects (they serve as fantastic pollinators), the mounds of soil they make may be aesthetically displeasing to some people. Keeping a healthy lawn with no bare patches can deter miner bees from nesting in an area. Irrigation sprinklers can also help to keep the ground moist; these bees prefer dry soil, so it may keep them away. Care must be taken not to over-water a lawn, however!
A cicada killer wasp. Photo credit: Division of Plant Industry
Another species of note is the cicada killer hornet. Also known as the giant ground hornet, these insects grow to a size of about an inch and a half in length. Instead of pollen, they capture cicadas to feed their young. Like the miner bee, though, they are not harmful. Females do possess a stinger which they use to hunt their prey. Males may try to warn people or animals away from their burrows by acting aggressive, but they have no stingers. Some may see the large size of the cicada killer and wonder if the so-called “murder hornet” has made its way from Washington state to Florida, but as of this writing it has not. Unless you are a cicada, you have nothing to fear.
One ground-dwelling hornet that does warrant some concern is the yellowjacket. These are communal hornets, living in hives that are often build underground. Yellowjackets are known for their bad attitudes, attacking anyone who disturbs the entrance to their nest. They can be beneficial, being predators of many other insects including plant pests. A colony located too close to human dwellings or areas of activity is most often a nuisance, however. Any attempts to control yellowjacket nests should be done at night when they are less active. Protective clothing is recommended even then. Large or difficult to reach nests may require the attention of a certified pest control company.
For more information on these topics, see our EDIS publications: