Ouch! Yellow Jackets Having 'Banner Year' in Northwest

Sep 10, 2013

Still smarting from a wasp sting this summer? You're not alone. It has been a banner year for yellow jackets in the Northwest by many accounts.

The main reason for so many wasps buzzing around is favorable weather conditions. Washington State University entomologist Richard Zack says a mild winter helped yellow jacket queens survive their hibernation, then the spring worked out well, too.

"If we get a spring where we get some moisture, but the nice temperatures come on very quickly—we don't get prolonged wet and cold—then that allows the nests to really get going,” Zack said. “And that pretty much is the type of year that we've had this year."

Richard Zack: "As soon as temperatures, especially at night, begin to drop down into the 40s, the 30s again—we get some freezes—that basically knocks the colonies out,” he said.

If you discover a yellow jacket nest in your yard where you and your kids or pets are likely to have run-ins with the stinging insects, Zack advises you to take control measures or hire an exterminator.

But if the colony is out of the way, the expert says to leave it alone. 

"They're actually beneficial,” said Zack. "They're out there, picking up caterpillars, aphids, beetles and flies. So they're good predatory insects." 

In northeastern Washington, the state Department of Natural Resources says it has been getting calls from people who want to know if the agency intentionally released yellow jackets as a way to control other bugs. The persistent rumors prompted the agency's people to post a denial on its website. 

"Let's set the record straight: DNR does not release yellow jackets or similar insects,” reads the blog post. Its headline concludes, "we don't like'em either."