Stinging Insects: 3 Ways to Keep Safe During the Summer

Wasps, hornets and yellow jackets are stinging insects that can build nests near your home. Here's how to prevent them and deal with them if they appear.

by Kristina Mercedes Urquhart

Summer is upon us, and deep in the heart of July swarm thousands of stinging insects. I’m watching a particular wasp nest grow by the day from my kitchen window. It’s a reminder of the power of the smallest creatures every time I load the dishwasher.

Being beekeepers, we wish to live in harmony with our powerful little friends. We know what works with honeybees, and we employ the techniques we deem safest in order to maintain their hives—such as using smoke or sugar syrup, and staying covered up and protected by gear. But when it comes to wild hives or nests, how do we manage the unpredictable and feral?

Here are a few tips to stay safe around stinging insects this summer:

Take Preventive Measures

“Dummy” nests are a wonderful, chemical-free way to deter wasps, hornets and yellow jackets from building their nests near your home. You can purchase or easily make these nests; they usually look like medium gray cotton sacks. Hang them anywhere you want to deter stinging insects such as paper wasps and hornets from building nests. (Yellow jackets can also build these type of hanging, above-ground nests.) Hang them every 30 to 50 feet around your home for best results.

Employ Early Intervention

Tackling populations of stinging insects when numbers are low is the way to go. At the first glimpse of a nest in an unwanted location, remove it. Remember a few things before you pull out the spray: If you are confident in identifying the various species of stinging insect, you will know whether a feral honeybee hive has been established. If that’s the case, either remove it yourself to save the bees and as much comb as possible, or contact your local beekeeping club for referrals of honeybee removal companies or individuals. If you know it is a wasp, hornet or yellow jacket nest, use common sense when removing it, because each situation presents a slightly different list of opportunities or challenges.

Use Spray as a Last Resort

If you’ve taken early measures to keep hornet and wasp nests away, you might get lucky and not have an issue with stinging insects for the rest of the year. Hooray! This is what we all hope for. Sometimes, though, a nest will appear where we never saw it growing. One year, we nearly ran into one that was at eye level in a tree at the corner of our house. We must have walked by it hundreds of times and didn’t know it was there until it was the size of a basketball. We removed this nest with some careful cutting at night. I rarely advocate spraying a nest with poison, because even wasps, hornets and yellow jackets serve their ecological purpose to the habitat and deserve to live. With that said, if the price is severe injury to myself or my family, they have to go, one way or another.

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It’s important to strike a balance between caring for your land, your property and your family in a healthy way. These stinging insects deserve to live, as does any creature. If we use dummy nests to deter queens from starting nests, we don’t have to harm them. If we knock down early nests that are too close to human dwellings for comfort, the queens will be able to reconstruct her nest elsewhere. There are always options to dealing with wild animals, even those that pose the most challenges for humans. Of course, safety is the first priority, so exercise caution when near to these nests and enlist professional help when needed.

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