We love honey bees because of the sweet, golden honey they produce, but we’re not the only ones. Honey and other hive products attract a great number of natural pests and predators, including the yellow jacket. Yellow jackets can prove devastating for an unprepared hive. They can raid the colony, killing many honey bees and destroying valuable hive resources in the process. This is why many beekeepers dread the arrival of yellow jacket populations in the summer. These insects are a beneficial part of the ecosystem, but the havoc they wreak on apiaries can cause a lot of stress and sorrow for honey bees and their keepers.
Fortunately, there are ways to ward off the threat. Learn how to keep your colonies safe with these ways to protect your beehives from yellow jackets.
What Are Yellow Jackets?
The key to solving any pest problem is to know your enemy. Yellow jackets are a breed of wasp within the hornet family. They’re social insects that build nests much like honey bees do. You can often yellow jacket nests in holes in the ground or in sheltered areas such as shrubs, trees, and holes in walls or other structures. Like honey bees, yellow jackets are black and yellow. However, their brighter colors and thin waists set them apart from bees and other similar insects. Yellow jackets also have annual life cycles. Colonies will start in the spring, when overwintered queens emerge and start building nests. The colony thrives throughout the summer as the queen produces more and more generations of workers.
Why Are Yellow Jackets a Threat?
Yellow jackets are aggressive, predatory creatures. They can locate a honey bee hive by sense of smell, either through the scent of honey or of pheromones the bees produce. They often leave honey bees alone when there’s plenty of food, but they’ll rob beehives and other locations when resources are scarce.
Yellow jackets prey on other insects as sources of protein. If they attack a beehive, they’ll kill the worker bees and eat the brood. They’ll also destroy and eat the honeycomb. A yellow jacket raid might even kill the honey bee queen. All in all, a yellow jacket attack leaves a beehive in disarray with no brood, less honey, and fewer workers to pick up the pieces of the colony. This usually means the remaining honey bees will abandon the hive in search of a new home, leaving you down a colony.
Ways To Protect Your Beehives from Yellow Jackets
Beekeepers play an important role in keeping their colonies safe. Preventative measures include safeguarding the hive; building up a strong, healthy colony; or locating and eliminating threatening yellow jacket nests before they can destroy your hives. Keep in mind that yellow jackets are still important parts of the ecosystem. If they’re far from your hives or small enough not to pose a threat, it’s best to leave them alone. However, if yellow jackets are a danger to your apiary, here are a few ways to take care of them:
Fortify Your Hive
If you can keep yellow jackets out of your hive, they can’t destroy honeycomb or attack the brood. Guard bees already help with this endeavor by warding off intruders that wander too close. You can aid your honey bees by reducing hive entrances, making it harder for yellow jackets to get in. You should also evaluate your hive’s condition during inspections. Make sure there aren’t any holes or other damage large enough for yellow jackets to crawl through. As you fortify your hive, be sure to clear out dead honey bees from around the entrance. If nearby yellow jackets notice dead honey bees around the hive, they might take it as a sign the hive is weak enough to attack.
Set Baits and Traps
Traps are some of the most effective tools to use against yellow jacket. An efficient way to ward off yellow jacket populations is to trap and kill a yellow jacket queen early in the season. This prevents her from starting a nest, keeping the yellow jacket population around your apiary low. To do this, place traps in early spring, when the queen is out foraging for her young nest. You have a few options: poison bait traps mix low-concentration insecticide with meat or fish bait. This lures yellow jackets into the trap, where they take the contaminated bait and bring it back to their nest. The insecticide then works its way through the population. If you don’t want to use insecticide traps, other options are available. Drowning or freezing are both effective ways to kill trapped yellow jackets. No matter what kind of trap you use, make sure you check and clean it regularly to ensure it remains effective.
Locate and Destroy Yellow Jacket Nests
You can also take direct action to ward off nearby yellow jackets. Once you locate the threatening nest, you can destroy its residents by sealing them in or pouring boiling or soapy water into the nest. Be careful when attacking a yellow jacket nest. It’s best to approach at night, when most of the insects are inside the hive. Yellow jackets are also calmer at night. That said, be sure to approach carefully. Try not to carry a light with you when you get close to the nest, as this will attract defensive yellow jackets. You can also contact a local professional to safely take care of the yellow jacket nest for you.
Keep a Strong Colony
Your honey bees have a better chance of defending themselves from yellow jackets as long as the colony is thriving. Simple hive maintenance such as regular inspections and quick action against pests or diseases can keep your honey bees strong. When your hive has a strong population and abundant resources, they have a better chance of warding off attacks from local yellow jackets and other natural threats. Make sure you have the right beehive equipment and other beekeeping supplies to help your colony thrive throughout the season.
How do you prevent yellow jackets in your apiary? Share your stories and advice in the comments below.