Blog : The Wasps Next Door

By Craig | Aug 26, 2014 | in

Sometimes it starts with a low hum, something dull and distant droning like a lawnmower in the distance; someone in the neighborhood perhaps. Then, at a backyard cookout, a friend sipping on their lemonade can't get away from one. That's when you see it, a wasp's nest the size of a volleyball hanging underneath the porch steps like a paper lantern. This summer Tom Pray, of Ecotech Pest Control in Eliot, Maine, saw a drastic spike in yellow jacket populations that, even with a B.S. in entomology, leaves him stumped as to why there are so many reported nests.

"Last year we had a bumper crop of bald face hornets and yellow jacket nests. We're probably just seeing the result of that," Pray hypothesized. "All those nest sites last year created new queens for this year, so a large number of them survived the winter and now they're creating new nest sites during the summer."

Pray was recently called to a property not by the homeowner, but by Minute Men Painters, a green painting company in Portsmouth, who couldn't paint the home because three wasp nests were found along the roof line. To combat these pests, Pray has different pieces of equipment and treatments that allow him to remove these stinging insects wherever they may nest.

Homeowners can take some minor precautions themselves by walking their property to check for nests. There are a few different species of yellow jacket, which, along with Bald-faced hornets, are actually classified as wasps. The varying species each have a favorite place to build, which is why many homeowners find nests in the ground, hanging from a tree and hidden in the wall of a house. If a homeowner, or business owner, finds a nest on their property during the summer Pray insists they call him instead of taking matters into their own hands with over-the-counter insecticides.

"People don’t want to go after a nest site like that with a can of Raid, that’s like bringing a knife to a gun fight. You have to be really close when you set that off and they will come after you," he said.

Homeowners can also rest assured that not only is Pray’s treatment effective, it is entirely eco-friendly, one of the reasons Ecotech is a Business Partner with the Green Alliance, a union of local, sustainable businesses and consumers that also includes Minute Men Painters.

Different species of yellow jackets, and wasps, build a variety of nest types. The "paper" nest is the most common seen. Circular in shape and grey in color these nests feel like papier-mâché and are often found hanging under decks, roof lines and tree branches. But the yellow jackets that build inside a home's wall cavity can be particularly dangerous if unchecked.

"In the case of nests in the walls of homes, I have seen many homeowners make matters worse when they try to treat the nest themselves and it backfires, badly, then the yellow jackets enter a home in large numbers," said Pray.

Pray recounts one client with a nest in the cavity of their bedroom ceiling. The nest went undiscovered and fell through the bedroom ceiling in the middle of the night. Often it's the German yellow jacket building in the wall void of a home, wrapping sheet rock into their nest, weakening the wall or ceiling, all it takes is someone tapping at the wall area of the nest to release them into a room.

Pray recommends homeowners check the exterior of their building for an opening with wasps entering and exiting.

"The German yellow jackets will use a crack or a crevasse near a window, socket or side of the house to get into the wall," he said. "People will make the mistake of thinking that the wall is being invaded and they will plug the holes to stop yellow jackets from coming in when in fact they are already living there and have been for months."

"If the hole is plugged, it traps the yellow jackets in the wall and they start crawling around looking for a place to get out. They'll start coming out inside the house through a light switch hole or around a window that isn’t tight," Pray added.

Should a homeowner discover a nesting site, Pray says to leave it alone and call Ecotech. Once a nest site has been treated, anything alive in the nest will be dead within 24 hours. After that period of time the homeowner can remove the nest themselves without fear of being stung. If, however, a homeowner discovers there is still activity in the nest, Pray will return for additional treatment. This is a rare occurrence, but Ecotech errs on the safety of the homeowner and would rather the task be handled by a professional.

"People just need to be weary of that spot and they can call us and we can take care of it," said Pray.

Tom Pray discovering two nest sites under a client's porch. 

Yellow jackets are also found near trash cans and dumpsters as they often prey on flies. Unlike bees, yellow jackets can sting multiple times without causing harm to themselves, which makes the handling of the yellow jackets dire for untrained professionals who may put themselves, or family, at risk of a potentially fatal allergic reaction. With this ability, yellow jackets are a formidable predator, stinging flies and bringing them to their nest sites to feed the larvae.

"It's a symbiotic relationship. If they give protein to the larvae, the larvae makes this sweet sugar nectar that the adult can eat," said Pray.

This attraction to sweetness is often why yellow jackets are found at picnics and cookouts where sweet fruits are available. Walk through any apple orchard and note the number of yellow jackets teeming on the rotting, smashed fruit on the ground.

The end of summer is a growing season for yellow jacket and wasp colonies. Their nests expand to make room for a new brood of queens for the next year. Winter doesn't fully eradicate the populations as these new queens hibernate in leaf litter, under bark and in attics. The German yellow jacket, taking up residence in a home's wall cavity, can become active during warm days throughout the winter. Once spring opens Nature's doors to new growth, the new queens emerge and look for a place to build a new nest site. Nest sites from the previous year are not reused. Pray recommends his seasonal preventative treatment, once in the spring and once in the summer, stops wasps from making new nests on a homeowner's property.

Pray's treatments are designed to reduce the rapid growth of nesting sites he has seen this year.

"That is precisely one of the things we prevent by doing that exterior service,” says Pray. "When we do the second service at the end of the summer we're looking for nests on the property to make sure this problem isn’t there."

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