Yellow jackets are common backyard residents. Throughout the warmer months of the year, they actively hunt for food throughout our yards. If we leave them alone, they rarely sting us. However, if we are going to have a bad encounter with them it will most likely be in the fall.
One reason that you are more likely to incur a painful yellow jacket sting in autumn is there are simply far more yellow jackets around at that time of the year. All summer long yellow jacket numbers increase to the point that by the time autumn rolls around a colony may number anywhere from 2,000-4,000+ individuals.
Another cause is during the fall yellow jackets change their diet. During the spring and summer, their diet consists, in large part, of spiders, caterpillars, flies, and other invertebrates. Remarkably, yellow jackets are capable of capturing more than 2 pounds of insects and other invertebrates from a 2,000 square-foot garden plot. The protein that they bring back to their nest benefits the young that continually hatch throughout the summer.
However, as they days get shorter, yellow jackets begin switching to a diet rich in carbohydrates. Yellow jackets locate these sweet foods in tree sap, nectar, and the juice of fruits and berries. Much to our chagrin, they are also attracted to foods and beverages served at picnics and other outside gatherings.
At this time of the year yellow jackets, become more aggressive toward one another as well as people and pets. Consequently, they are more prone to sting without provocation. Since this behavioral change coincides with a switching from a predominantly protein diet to one rich in carbohydrates, some researchers suggest this may be the main reason for their aggressive fall attitude.
With that in mind, don’t go near yellow jacket nests in the fall. In addition, if one does sting you, just remember that a painful sting might be a small price to pay for an insect that helps control insects pests that prey on the food an ornamental plant growing in your yard.
I tried do take my own advice recently when I was the victim of an unprovoked yellow jacket that zeroed in on my arm. I must admit immediately after I was stung, I was not harboring kind thoughts regarding yellow jackets. However, as is often the case with many things, over time I got over it.