One of the drawbacks of having outdoor picnics and barbecues during the summer is the unwanted attendance of yellow jackets. Our region is home to both native Western yellow jackets and non-native German yellow jackets – first discovered locally near Tacoma in 1980. Both species are quick tempered and capable of stinging multiple times.

Most Washingtonians are fully aware yellow jackets have an offensive and aggressive nature, and will not tolerate disturbances of any kind, especially near their nests. Many people have found themselves at the business end of yellow jacket stingers and have experienced the searing pain of an attack that can make grown-ups scream, jump about and pull clothes off while swatting aimlessly.

In April and May, the only yellow jackets encountered are new queens emerging from hibernation looking for good nesting sites. To prevent the establishing of new colonies, those hungry queens can be lured into traps. Every queen caught stops an entire colony. An inexpensive trap is a shallow pan filled with sugar water and a drop or two of liquid soap. The sugar lures the queen into the water and the soap makes it impossible for her to get out. Commercially sold hanging traps using chemical attractants are also effective in luring yellow jackets to their death.

To avoid getting stung while going about your daily business, follow a few common sense guidelines. Don’t wear scents or bright colored clothing; do gardening chores in the morning or evening when yellow jackets are less active. When dining outdoors, put some food away from your eating area to distract wasps; and don’t flail your arms at them. Yellow jackets sense panic and will react aggressively.

Pete Landolt, a research entomologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said “Despite their painful reputation, it is a little known fact all species of wasps perform an immensely important role in the ecosystem: they hunt other insects. In our back yards, gardens and forests, wasps attack everything from flies to defoliating caterpillars and both pine and bark beetles that attack trees. Their impact for controlling insects is very important. Wasps don’t go looking for a fight, but will react with legendary vengeance to anything they perceive to be a threat to their nests. What ticks wasps off can vary and its hard to tell when they do attack if it’s the species or the incident. Each species differ somewhat in what can trigger an attack.”

When picnicking or barbecuing, it is advisable for those with severe allergies to have an EpiPen or an epinephrine auto injector with them just in case they get stung. Each year in the U.S. approximately 400 people die from an aphylactic shock bought on by wasps and other insect bites.

In Other Notes: Joe Hymer, a supervisory fish biologist at the Pacific States Marine Fishery, reported during the week April of 2 through 8 from the I-5 Bridge downstream, 42 Cowlitz River bank anglers kept three steelhead and released one cutthroat. Three boat anglers kept one adult chinook. Above the Interstate 5 Bridge, 129 bank rods kept 12 adult spring chinook and six steelhead and released one steelhead. Additionally, 99 boat rods kept 34 steelhead and released three. Most of the steelhead were sampled at the Trout Hatchery while most of the salmon were checked at the salmon hatchery.

Tacoma Power has released 4,020 rainbows into Mayfield Lake. They are part of the 72,000 fish expected to be planted between April and August.


Bob Brown can be contacted at “robertb1285@ centurylink. net”