During the Spring and Summer months, social wasps such as Paper wasps and Yellowjackets are busy building their nest and gathering food to feed their brood. Although they will protect their nest and sting if they feel threatened, they are fairly passive. Some of you may be thinking right now, please define fairly passive! That’s understandable, but please read on.
As Fall approaches, many of these colonies reach their maximum size and begin to decrease in size because there are no more workers being reared. The only ones left to feed are the future developing queens and food is beginning to get harder to find.
Paper wasps feed their larvae liquefied insects such as caterpillars, but as adults they feed on nectar. On the other hand, Yellowjackets will feed on insects, carrion, fruit, sap and plant nectar. The photo shows Eastern Yellowjackets gathering meat from the remains of a snake to take back to their larvae.
During the Fall, the workers are out looking for food and may become a nuisance during Autumn outdoor activities. They are very aggressive at this time and will sting if agitated. During this time of the year, they have a very important job to do and that is gathering food for the future reproductive larvae back in the nest. They will take sips from your favorite beverage and help themselves to your sandwich, as well. So, be careful! Your favorite beverage may be too much of an invitation for them. They will readily fly into the can or glass to collect liquid. If you unsuspectingly take a drink while the insect is there, it may get into your mouth, or worse, into your stomach. This is a very dangerous situation. You may be stung repeatedly before the insect dies. It’s hard to imagine how painful a sting would be in your esophagus or stomach!!
Once the reproductives mature, they leave the nest and mate, becoming less aggressive once again. The males (drones) soon die after mating, leaving the fertile queen to find a safe place to overwinter. With the exception of some Yellowjacket colonies in central and south Florida, the old queen and workers will die by the first hard frost. The old nest is not reused and will eventually fall apart.
The queens will often gather in homes and other structures to overwinter. They seem to prefer tall buildings and homes with peaked attics and chimneys. During warm periods, they may enter the structure and cause all sorts of excitement. The good thing is…they are not normally aggressive at this time. Now, that should make you feel much better about them!