Noticed more wasps buzzing about? Entomologist weighs in

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AMES, Iowa — This beautiful fall weather has been great for some wasps to be winging their way out and about. Sometimes people can interact with the insects unexpectedly, with reports of wasp stings, for those who don’t know they are there.

Donald Lewis has been an entomologist at Iowa State University for over forty years. He remembers years back in the ’70s when reports of wasps were extremely high. This year he’s gotten a few more calls, but nothing which could be considered a record number.

“Nobody takes a census of insects,” said Lewis. “We just go by the amount of calls we get.”

For this reporter, knowledge of the wasp nest in my yard came about one night while mowing the lawn along the fence line. All of a sudden I was in the midst of dozens of stinging wasps. After a short run to the other side of my house, I finally got the creatures away from me. In the process, I sustained numerous stings on my legs and chest. My wife even found stingers still stuck into my skin. After some pain that evening, I was able to get most of the lawn mowed, then showered and put medication on my wounds. Even after a week there is still some itching on my legs.

“Stinging is an interesting process, in that the stinging insects inject a venom, a protein, in the process of stinging,” said Lewis. “In about 5% of the population will be allergic to that venom.”

The wasps are most often discovered in the fall months.

“The yellow jacket wasp is going to be aggressive if you disturb their colony so if you mow over the colony entrance or if you were digging next to them in your compost pile, you’re going to stir them up and they’re going to protect the nest by stinging,” said Lewis. “Leave them alone, but if you must treat them do so carefully, read and follow label directions and again treat them at night will be a little less risky for you.”

These wasps are only around for one season.

“Now if we could ignore them and stay away from them that would be the best possibility,” said Lewis. “They are going to freeze to death by Thanksgiving these are annual colonies, the colony only lasts for the one season and then they start over from scratch the following year.”

Sometimes the nest is in a bad spot, in a wall, or near where people are.

“If the nest is in an area where you can’t avoid it you can put insecticide in the nest opening at night,” said Lewis. “It can be a powder from the garden or it can be a foaming wasp and hornet aerosol spray.”

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