November 27, 2014

Elyria
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Summer sting: Yellow jackets, others a danger this time of year

Little children playing on the school playground are fair game, as far as yellow jackets are concerned.

BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE
A close-up of a paper wasp nest found under a shed in a Columbia Township yard on Thursday. The wasps are close cousins of yellow jackets, and residents often confuse the two. Dave Hoban, an exterminator, was responding to a call about yellow jackets Thursday only to find these paper wasps.

On Wednesday, eight second-graders at Crestwood Elementary School in Elyria Township were stung by yellow jackets while outside during recess. Luckily, none of the children required emergency medical attention, but it did cut their outside play short as an exterminator was called immediately to find the nest, which was in the ground near the playground equipment, Elyria Schools spokeswoman Amy Kren said.

This time of year, everyone needs to beware of the bold buggers with the painful stings, according to the experts.

“They sting for protection and to ward off what they see as threats,” said John Young, owner of Speed Exterminating Co.  “They react differently to people and are very unpredictable.”

Young said he has walked up to nests he’s going to treat and walked away with no stings only to do it again the next day and get attacked.

While they are acting as typical yellow jackets will, Young said this year is a very strong yellow jacket year in terms of nest size and colony volume.

“This summer’s weather was perfect,” he said. “There was rain, drought, heat and humidity — all the ingredients needed to produce a perfect year for them.”

Late in the summer, yellow jacket nests — which can grow to the size of basketballs or beach balls depending on their location — mature, said Dave Hoban, owner of Hoban Pest Control. The nests start in the spring with just one pregnant queen burrowing inside a hole and expand into a hive of about 5,000 workers set on protecting their leader and her palace.

They may not produce sweet, sticky nectar like honeybees, but they are beneficial since they feed on flies and caterpillars that harm agriculture, according to the Ohio State University Extension Office.

And, the tiny insects are here to stay — as long as it’s warm, Hoban said.

Ida Tassi first noticed she was sharing her backyard with some unwanted guests a few weeks ago.

She walked outside to her shed and spotted what she thought were several yellow jackets buzzing around. Living out in the country, dealing with insects is nothing new. So, Tassi, 95, hopped on her riding lawnmower and headed out to cut the grass around her East River Road home.

But she was stopped in her tracks when the bugs attacked her.

Sting prevention

Never swing or strike at a yellow jacket or run rapidly away since quick movements often provoke attack.Slowly raise your hands to protect your face. Remain calm and stationary for a while and then move very slowly away.

Don’t run. Yellow jackets, wasps and bees fly about 6 to 7 mph, so humans can outrun them. However, by the time one starts running, there could quickly be a dozen or more painful stings.

Never strike, swing or crush one against your body since it could incite nearby yellow jackets into a frenzy. Wasp venom contains a chemical “alarm pheromone” released into the air, signaling guard wasps to come and sting whoever and whatever gets in their way.

When a bee or wasp gets into a moving car, remain calm. It will naturally fly against windows. Slowly and safely pull over off the road, open the windows and allow the escape.

Sting treatment
Immediately apply a poultice of a meat tenderizer to the wound. It will break down the components of the sting fluid, reducing pain. Antihistamine ointments and tablets, taken orally, effectively reduce reactions to stings.

Source: Ohio State University Extension Office

“Those d— things have been flying around biting everyone. When you get bit, you know you have a nest. I got bit four times in my hand by the same one,” Tassi said. “My whole hand swoll up. It took four days for it to go down. I thought I was going to have to go to the hospital.”

None of the students stung Wednesday had severe allergic reactions. After the application of ice and ointment, each one finished out the school day, Kren said.

That is not always the case. Yellow jackets, unlike bees, are in the same biological family as paper wasps and will live on after stinging to sting you again. As such, it’s best to act fast when it happens.

A home remedy worked best for Tassi.

She cleaned the wounds with Fels Naptha soap and covered it with a paste of baking soda and water. After the swelling went down, she used peroxide and Neosporin to ease the pain.

“I couldn’t go out there at all,” she said.

So, what’s a person to do, just sit and wait like yellow jackets bait? Not exactly. Unless the threat of stings and nest location present a hazard, the OSU Extension Office believes it is often best to wait for Mother Nature to take care of the problem. Freezing temperatures in late November and December will kill off colonies and the workers do not survive the winter.

Young said brave souls can speed up the process by putting a cypermethrin-based insecticide into the colony. Just make sure it is placed inside the hive entrance, otherwise the insecticide will just bounce off the opening, and you will have hundreds of maddened bugs on your tail.

Young knows from experience. He is a fourth-generation exterminator, the son of an entomologist and great-grandson of John W. Speed, the namesake of the company.

The first sign you have a yellow jacket problem is seeing them flying in and out of the nest. Nests can be found in holes in the wall or ground, old rodent burrows and under the roots of old trees. Those nasty bugs will even chew at the backside of drywall to make their nests bigger.

This time of the year, most residents are opting for quick removal. In a typical day, Hoban said he does between 10 and 15 colony removals. The nest is removed if possible, but sometimes it’s best to just kill the nest with a heavy-duty natural pesticide, he said.

But it’s a job that is not without its hazards.

“I’ve probably been stung thousands of times,” Hoban said.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 653-6268 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.