Something’s Buzzing my Picnic!

Summer is winding down, children are getting ready for their first days at school and end of the season bar-b-cues are being planned. People are finding more wasps, yellow jackets, hornets and bees buzzing their otherwise uneventful picnics. So, why are they doing what they do best – turning up the eek factor?

Wasps and hornets are predators, feeding insects and other arthropods to their young, which develop in the nest. They are beneficial because they prey on many insects, including caterpillars, flies, crickets, and other pests. During late summer and fall, as queens stop laying eggs and their nests decline, wasps and hornets change their food gathering priorities and are more interested in collecting sweets and other carbohydrates.

Bees feed only on nectar (carbohydrates) and pollen (protein) from flowers. Honey bees sometimes visit trash cans and soft-drink containers to feed on sugary foods. Bees are an essential part of the farming community as they pollinate many of the plants from which we get our food.

Yellowjackets build nests below ground in old rodent burrows or other cavities. They can also build nests in trees, shrubs, under eaves, and inside attics or wall voids. Hornets build nests in the open in trees as well as under eaves and along the sides of buildings. Wasps build nests under any horizontal surface and are commonly found on limbs, overhangs, eaves of buildings, beams and supports in attics, garages, barns, sheds, and other similar places. Honey bees make a series of vertical honey combs made of wax. Their colonies are mostly in manufactured hives but they do occasionally nest in cavities in large trees, voids in building walls, or other protected areas. Bumblebees use old mice burrows, cavities in buildings, and other locations to make their nests. Like honey bees, bumblebees make cells of wax.

During late summer and fall, bees, wasps, hornets and yellow jackets become aggressive scavengers and frequently disrupt outside activities where food or drink is served. The best strategy is to minimize attracting them. Wait to serve food and drink until people are ready to eat. Promptly put away food when done and throw garbage into a container with a tightly fitting lid. Examine glasses, cans, and other containers before drinking from them to check for wasps that may have flown inside. If a wasp flies to your food, wait for it to fly away or gently brush it away. If only a few yellow jackets are bothering your activity, ignoring them or capturing them with a net and crushing them may be sufficient.

Be especially vigilant if anyone in your party is allergic to stings from any of these creatures. Make sure they have their medications at the ready. Everyone should be on alert in these situations.

Black widow spiders are commonly found in Virginia. They are probably best identified by their shiny black bodies with an hour glass red spot on the underside of the abdomen. Females are larger than the males and the males and immature spiders are not considered to be of medical concern. Females build their webs near the ground within rock walls, woodpiles and places around buildings and outdoor structures. Mature females rarely leave their web and hang upside down waiting for their prey. Black widows are not aggressive, but will definitely defend their territory. Bites feel like a pinprick followed by swelling, redness and intense pain up to several hours later. Sweating, nausea and abdominal cramps may follow and last for days. Death from a bite is rare but medical attention is advised.

The information above is provided by the University of Minnesota Department of Cooperative Extension and the Manitoba, Canada Housing Authority’s Housing Communications Centre, Virginia Cooperative Extension, and the University of Virginia Health System Blog.

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