As August winds down, everyone is preparing for back to school shenanigans. Making beds, getting up early, packing lunches… but as all school children know, one should pack extra, because there are lunch-time thieves lurking out there! While the weather is perfect for enjoying our meals al-fresco, a persistent insect commonly called the Yellow Jacket is out to steal your snacks and drinks.

Yellow jackets are part of the Order Hymenoptera of insects, which includes wasps, bees and ants. This is the third largest order with well over 100,000 species in the world. Scientistsknow the Hymenoptera to be the “social butterflies” of the insect world; their social life has reached the highest stage development of all other insects. Yellow jackets are part of the family called Social Vespids, who arenotorious for their potent and painful sting. In the fall, they seem to be at their most vicious, charging innocent bystanders seemingly out of nowhere, but this is no random state of affairs.

In the Spring, a queen yellow jacket will begin a new colony by building a new nest or re-using a vacant one. The nests are constructed of hexagonal,waterproof paper cells. These nests are attached to surfaces, such as the eaves of roofs or branches on trees. This single queen will head a colony of up to 25,000 individuals in one season- no mean feat!

Wasp larva will live in thesecells, hungrily taking the food offered to them by the male workers. With each gift of food, the larva will excrete a drop of saliva which is devoured by the worker, forming a ‘mutual exchange’ relationship which holds the colony together

Male workers have no purpose in life but to serve the colony. The colony functions perfectly, with the queen giving directions which are followed by her loyal subjects. However, this apparent harmony is not exactly the ‘bees knees’, as it were. The queen hibernates in solitude, and leaves her nest early to find a secluded spot where she can enjoy a long rest with peace and quiet. Once she goes, all hornets break loose! Without direction or a sense of purpose, the worker males essentially revolt.  Having gone rogue, its every wasp for himself in the search for food and survival… your lunch happens to be an easy meal!

But wait! While they may seem malicious, this order of insect is one of the most beneficial to man. The honey-bee is all important for honey, wax and pollination, and many wasps check the populations of many harmful insects, regardless of the tiny sting they may deliver now and then. Make sure to cover your lunch and keep your pop out of sight while keeping in mind that this bad behaviour is nothing more than the absence of a little discipline at home.

Yellow Jacket

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