Regional Public Journalism
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ouch! Yellow Jackets Having A 'Banner Year' In Northwest

Wikimedia -

Still smarting from a wasp sting this summer? Well, you're not alone. It's been a "banner year" for yellow jackets in the Northwest by many accounts.

The main reason for so many wasps buzzing around is favorable weather conditions. Washington State University entomologist Richard Zack says a mild winter helped yellow jacket queens survive their hibernation -- and then the spring worked out well too.

"If we get a spring where we get some moisture, but the nice temperatures come on very quickly -- we don't get prolonged wet and cold -- then that allows the nests to really get going," explains Zack. "And that pretty much is the type of year that we've had this year."

Zack says relief is likely on the way soon.

"As soon as temperatures, especially at night, begin to drop down into the 40s, the 30s again -- we get some freezes -- that basically knocks the colonies out."

Zack advises to take control measures or hire an exterminator if you discover a yellow jacket nest in your yard where you and your kids or pets are likely to have run-ins with the stinging insects.

But if the colony is out of the way, the expert says to leave it alone.

"They're actually beneficial" critters, says Zack. "They're out there picking up caterpillars, aphids, beetles and flies. So they're good predatory insects."

In northeastern Washington, the state Department of Natural Resources says it is getting calls asking if the agency intentionally released yellow jackets as a way to control other bugs. The persistent rumors prompted the agency's people to post a denial on its website.

"Let's set the record straight: DNR does not release yellow jackets or similar insects,” reads the blog post. Its headline concludes, "we don't like 'em either."

On the Web:

Yellow jacket biology and control tips - WSU Extension 
"No, DNR does not release yellow jackets" - Washington Dept. of Natural Resources 

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.