Sorting out paper wasps, yellowjackets

By Marianne C. Ophardt, Special to the Tri-City HeraldAugust 23, 2012 

PASCO, Wash. -- Are yellowjacket and wasps the same pest?

No, they're different, and we have both in our area. Paper wasps are a real nuisance in my yard. They're social wasps (living in groups) and build relatively small open-celled nests (not enclosed with a papery covering.)

Our native paper wasps are distinctly different from yellowjackets. They have reddish brown slender bodies with yellowish markings and long dangling legs.

However, our area of Washington has been invaded by the European paper wasp. It has a larger shiny black and yellow body that looks much like the common yellowjackets of the region.

Unlike yellowjackets, these invasive paper wasps don't scavenge for food and are considered beneficial because they eat live insects. They're often a problem because they build their nests almost anywhere in the yard and will sting if their home is threatened.

The common area yellowjackets build large enclosed papery nests in the ground. The entrance to their nests is small and often unnoticed. During the summer, the yellowjackets are helpful by eating live insects. They also forage for other sources of protein, such as dead animals, garbage and ripe fruit.

Once they secure their dinner, they chew it up and return to their nest to feed it to developing larvae. The larvae in turn produce a nutritious liquid for the adult workers to eat.

In the fall, the yellowjacket's prey start to disappear, and fewer yellowjacket larvae are available to produce their dinner. Without enough food, they turn aggressive when seeking out protein and sugar-based foods. That's when they become a hazard at outdoor feasts.

How to trap yellowjackets

Some have tried a bright yellow manufactured trap, as well as a homemade trap baited with sweet syrup and fruit juice, but both didn't trap any yellowjackets.

The problem may be that you have a problem with paper wasps, not yellowjackets. The good news is that paper wasps don't forage for protein and sweets at picnics. If they're causing you a problem near a picnic table, they're probably defending a nearby nest. Try to locate their open-celled nests and treat with an appropriate aerosol insecticide product labeled for wasp control. To avoid getting stung, follow label directions and apply the spray during the evening when it's almost dark.

If yellowjackets are a problem, lure traps will work for some types of yellowjackets, but their trapping potential can be enhanced by using meat, such as chicken, as an attractant. The meat should be replaced frequently, along with removing the dead yellowjackets.

Place baited traps around the periphery of your yard. If you're trying to protect a picnic spot in a larger area, place the traps about 200 feet away, spacing them every 150 feet apart.

I have tried the WHY traps for yellowjacket and paper wasp trapping, but they don't seem to work.

The WHY traps work well for the common yellowjackets and native paper wasps in our region, but their attractant doesn't appear to be effective for the European paper wasp, which now outnumbers the native one.

Dr. Peter Landolt, the USDA scientist who developed the attractant for the WHY trap, is trying to develop an attractant that will work for the European paper wasp.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for Washington State University Benton County Extension.

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