Yellowjackets in your hive
These thieves of the day are more than just pests for sure. It's interesting to learn, that yellowjackets can soon follow a robbing frenzy. Nearing and during winter, nature's food resources are scarcer, and robbing can become a huge problem! One of these unwanted robbing pests are Yellowjackets. These yellow and black “stripy things” aren’t sweet like our little Honeybees – on the contrary! They are MEAN! AND to top it off, they have it out for our bees!
Yellowjackets are in the “wasp family” and feed on our bees, larvae, brood, bee bread and pretty much anything they want inside our colonies! Ironically, the robbing from other bees tends to start first and then the Yellowjacket takes the opportunity to go in while our bees are distracted.
We do have ammunition though… You can purchase “bait traps” commonly found at your local box store or make your own. Here’s a DIY method readily found online: Use a 2 liter bottle and fill it with about a cup (give or take) of sugar syrup (light or heavy.) Or, if you don’t want to accidentally trap honeybees; meat, fish, chicken, or some rotting fruit will also work. Sugar syrup seems to be the preferred method because it’s easily made, and the container can be cleaned and reused time and time again. You can either leave the bottle intact or cut the top third of the bottle off (the neck portion), placing the cut top inverted back down into the cut opening pointing down. This is a rather elementary trap – the pest enters through the funnel top and can’t manage to get back out! Easy Peasy!
A proactive approach to robbing can be achieved by reducing your hive entrances. We typically suggest reducing them during colder weather anyway, so this shouldn’t be a problem as a seasonal solution to robbers of any kind.
I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping your woodenware in good condition. Robbers, no matter the species will take full advantage of any opening available; i.e.. separating seams or worn places where boxes meet. When you think about it in the terms of your own home, without fail we maintain a good roof over our heads and walls that don’t leak to stay comfortable and dry. Your bees want the same! Take the time during the cold weather to do maintenance on your hive boxes. Yes, you can do this WITH bees inside the box! On a cold day “when all the little bees are nestled snug in their hives,” take some wood putty (or duct tape if you’re me) and a gallon of paint and go make repairs to seams and give her a nice new paint job! I would still recommend at least a veil when working the front of the box… those guard girls are on duty year-round!
Fun game if you are bored – You can actually “track the yellowjackets” to their nest! I know… if you’re really bored, right? Take a clear plastic cup and put a small amount of powdered sugar in the bottom. Then “catch a yellowjacket” with the cup and quickly cover it with something they can’t sting through. Give a quick shake to coat the wasp in the powdered sugar and then release it. The now “white” yellowjacket will quickly fly away, hopefully to its nest. Your job is to follow it! Remember, I said you were really bored to spend time doing this right? It may take 20-30 attempts, but eventually you’ll locate the nest, giving you the opportunity to destroy it! Unlike our bees, they build their nests in trees, shrubs, or in places like flower pots, as well as in soil cavities in the ground, tree stumps, etc. Also, they don’t use wax to build their comb, but instead, the nests are made from wood fiber chewed into a paper-like pulp to form cells. In the event you find the nest, you can either use a pesticide rated for wasps/yellowjackets OR take a pot of boiling water and pour it down the entrance to the nest. It is really important to be well suited for this event and it’s even suggested to do this at night. Not only will you get more bang for your boil (that’s a punny) – but you’ll less likely get an all-out attack on you in the event they retaliate.
Authors Caution: I’ve made jest of tracking yellowjackets, but please understand, there is danger in serious stings from these very mean wasps. They can and will sting you given the opportunity. I’ve seen pictures of huge nests and you would not want to go at it unprepared.
Now that you know about the Yellowjacket and its mission – You can better calculate your position. Protecting our bees and their honey – although hard work, is sure to save us money! Determination and commitment to healthy, thriving bees as our plight…