Yellow jackets are busy foraging for food

I was sitting outside the other day eating my lunch and enjoying one of these beautiful sunny days we've been having. After just a few minutes I realized I was going to have the pleasure of sharing my lunch with two or three guests -- yellow jackets. It was really quite interesting to watch their feeding behavior. The yellow jackets proceeded to taste all the food items present and finally settled on apple cider.

Yellow Jacket

With yellow jackets it is sometimes difficult to determine whether you should like them or not. On one hand, they can result in severe discomfort when you accidentally disturb a nest, and the workers swarm and in the process of defending their hives they attack you. On the other hand, yellow jackets are voracious predators of plant-feeding herbivores such as caterpillars, beetles and other pests. Yellow jackets contribute toward the reduction of pest populations.

Yellow jackets are wasps in the family Vespidae. There are many species of yellow jackets in North America. One of the more common in our area is the Eastern yellow jacket. Colonies can be underground, in dense shrubs or vegetation, or in human-made structures. Nests are made of paper and the outer shell encloses a comb that supports the developing yellow jacket brood. Unlike honey bees, nests contain no honey or pollen.

Although adults feed primarily on items rich in sugars and carbohydrates (fruits, flower nectar, tree sap, apple cider, etc.), the larvae feed on proteins (insects, meats, fish, etc.).

Adult workers forage for "meat," return to the nest, and chew and condition the "meat" that they then feed to the larvae. In this regard, yellow jackets are beneficial because they kill many insects that are pests in our landscapes and nurseries.

Why are yellow jackets so active and noticeable at this time of year? As fall approaches, the colony must produce queens (fertilized females) that will ultimately start next year's colonies. Yellow jacket workers are searching for meat to provide these potential queens. Once it gets a little colder, the fertilized females leave the hive and search for protected locations, such as

under tree bark or in logs, to hide in and make it through the winter. In the spring, these individuals will start new colonies. Next time you come across a nest of yellow jackets, try to remember that they actually provide a pest management benefit -- and maybe share your hamburger or chicken.

Fall color alert

Fall color is now quite evident throughout the county, but is most pronounced in the higher elevations. Most of the ash colors have come and gone, but some trees still have their rainbow-like appearance. Many maples are turning now, and some of the oaks have begun color change. Leaves are now coming down. It's time to rake the lawn, carve the pumpkin and enjoy the cider.

Fall colors range from 70 percent to 20 percent depending on the elevation. Can you say "colorfest"?

Stanton Gill, Extension Specialist, University of Maryland Extension contributed the article on yellow jackets.

Article by FCFCDB

Nature Notes for 10/14/2012