Picnic Prep: Stinging Insects
Picnics are a perfect plan for a summer afternoon, enjoying a delicious meal under a clear blue sky. Setting up for an outdoor picnic is easy enough, although as pest management professionals we’re inclined to offer some pointers on how to keep things pest-free and easy.
First, location! While it’s tempting to pick a spot under a tree, note that stinging insects also enjoy the shade, as well as the aerial nesting option of a tree branch. Check overhead for nests before laying out your blanket, under the presumption that you may not be the first to find that perfect spot. Search for the conical design of the paper wasp, the acorn-shaped menace of a bald-faced hornet nest, or the paper comb of the yellow jacket. It’s fairly easy to spot these nests and they are immediately recognizable once you are familiar with their appearance. Paper wasp nests have the look of a gray umbrella made of hexagonal paper combs and are usually hanging from a single stalk attached to the tree. Bald-faced hornets nests can grow to the size of a football with multiple layers of combs encased in protective paper. They are typically found in a tall tree canopy, in a compact group of branches. Yellow jacket honeycomb nests may be aerial or underground, and grow to the size of basketball. If you do happen to spot a nest as you begin your picnic, it is best to leave nest removal to a professional, so the wisest move is to move on.
What is that phrase – Location, location? The outdoor trash receptacle can be a dangerous place to loiter in your picnic spot, and chairs should be placed at a reasonable distance from the refuse. While malodorous to us, stinging insects are lured by the heady combination of gently decomposing food and spilled sugary drinks, all comfortably kept in a single spot for their particular enjoyment. When their spot is challenged, stinging insects can react badly, as they are biologically disinclined to share. Stalwart picnic goers who linger by the trash can for a moment longer than necessary may find themselves the victim of a sting, not a pleasant prospect on a summer afternoon. Options to avoid these run-ins include disposing of left overs with alacrity and sealing trash bags once filled. The best offense is a good defense!
Finally – location, location, location. Even if you haven’t seen an aerial nests, some stinging insects such as yellow jackets, nest underground. Stinging insects are territorial – when their nests are threatened, they will sting. Generally, wasps will leave you to enjoy your picnic unless they imagine their nest to be at risk. If they definitely feel threatened, they will attack with multiple stings as they do not have to leave their stinger behind after an attack unlike a barbed-stinger bee which has just one chance at defense. Bald faced hornets are much more inclined to feel threatened than wasps. They are a punchy group who will attack with abandon, injecting their venom in multiple attacks from their smooth stinger. Yellow jackets are prone to attack when you are about a ruler’s length from the opening of their nest. They also are capable of stinging multiple times without dying, although their venom diminishes after the first sting.
Stinging insects on the East Coast usually reach their crescendo in August, before beginning their inevitable winter decline. Usually only the queen remains, with her anti-freeze blood which enables her to withstand the cold. The remainder of the colony, not similarly equipped with the biological imperative of the queen, dies off after the first hard frost. Of course, if you’re lucky enough to live in Florida, there is no frost to end the stinging insect season. But no worries, we are open year-round to help.
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