By Jim Moore, Entomologist
Yes, meat bee season is nearly upon us! For some, it is time to stock up on meat-bee traps; for others, it is time to make sure they have their anti-venom EpiPens always on hand. One thing for sure, they will be visiting your picnics this season! These are aggressive wasps that are to be respectfully feared. I have had my share of stings; likening the sting pain to injected fire! They seem to be everywhere here in NorCal – and they are!
The Western Yellow jacket, pictured, is the preeminent species in Western North America. They make their nest in ground holes, in trees, under the eaves of homes; and many other places. Once, I rescued a friend, who was very concerned about a nest attached onto a handrail of the small deck by their front door. The steady flow of wasps entering and leaving the nest kept me from getting too close. But well after dark when all the wasps were inside the nest, I terminated them all with a long and steady shot of bug spray. This last year, yellow jackets built a soccer ball size nest under the eaves of my home at the apex of the gable facing the rising of the sun; a smart location providing early morning warmth, and shade in the heat of the afternoon. Being difficult to reach, I just let them be, and eventually winter’s hard frosts terminated them all; all except the new queens! These queens, surviving with their ‘antifreeze’ like blood, will start new colonies in the springtime; hopefully elsewhere!
These wasps play an important role in maintaining the balance of life in their wilderness habitats by controlling overpopulation of other insects. The wasp larvae are fed bugs provided by the adults. The adults themselves are fond of both meats and sweets: bugs, carrion, and nectar. This is why you will be seeing them at your barbecues.
They love raw and cooked burgers and steaks, which they can smell from afar; and they love sweet, fruity, treats such as sodas, candy, and watermelon; all tasty goodies for the hopeful perfect barbecue! I suggest reading up on ways to deal with bee and wasp stings; and on how to minimize and prevent unpleasant encounters with these formidable summertime foes.