Watch out! There might be a yellow jacket in your soda can!
All summer long we’ve been able to eat outdoors without being plagued by yellow jacket wasps, but now it’s downright dangerous to put the can to your lips unless you’ve guarded it from these invaders.
Why do they do this?
Yellow jackets are members of the Vespidae family (wasps) who build papery nests underground. Last spring a single fertilized female, the queen, came out of the crevice she hid in all winter. She built a few papery cells underground, laid some eggs, tended the nest and fed the larvae. Within 30 days her eggs became sterile female workers.
The colony was born. From that point forward the queen merely laid “worker” eggs and her growing population of sterile females did all the work. They tended the nest, and collected insect prey (meat) to feed the larvae. They weren’t interested in sweets.
But in late summer a change occurs. The queen lays eggs that become males and fertile females who leave the colony to mate when they mature. Meanwhile, the queen stops laying eggs and colony social life breaks down. The workers stop tending the remaining larvae and leave the nest to go roaming. Now they’re looking for sweets to eat — fallen apples and your can of sweet soda.
This will end. By late fall all the yellow jackets will die and the newly fertilized queens will retreat to their crevices to wait out the winter and restart the cycle next spring.
Coincidentally, we stop eating outdoors by then so we don’t notice.
p.s. Do you have a yellow jacket story? Leave a comment to share it with us.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons in the public domain. Click on the photo to see the original.)