Buzz Off — Wasps Pose a Painful Problem
Southcentral Alaska is abuzz with winged things that pack a sharp sting. Wasps are an all-too-common problem.
If you’ve been outside much this summer, you’re probably uncomfortably familiar with this sound: …Bzzzz
Southcentral Alaska has seen an increase in wasp activity this year. Mild winters are good for overwintering queens, and more queens means more nests come springtime.
“There’s a lot of nests out there and we’re having a lot more interactions,” said Casey Matney, agriculture and horticulture agent with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service in Soldotna.
He says paper wasps and yellow jackets are the most prolific and problematic this year. They’re difficult to tell apart, and it doesn’t really matter. Both are classified as wasps, both can build nests on or around your home, both like to eat what people like to eat and both will sting — repeatedly — to protect their food or nest.
“They can get you multiple times. If they start to sting you, make sure you get them so they don’t keep going. And then, also, there may be a reason why you’re getting stung, why they’re attacking you. If they start buzzing you — that’s telling you that you’re somewhere that they don’t want you to be. And so you need to make sure not walking toward a nest,” Matney said.
That can be easier said than done if you’re dealing with multiple nests around your home. Erin and Harry Lockwood, off Sport Lake near Soldotna, have dedicated much of their summer to waging war against wasps. It’s been a tough battle.
“I’m tired of getting bit and I’m tired of not being able to sit outside. We’re in the house,” Erin said.
“We want to sit on the deck and eat on the deck and we couldn’t because we get swarmed,” Harry said.
Gardening is no longer relaxing, the hot tub is staying covered, cookouts are cooked in the garage and lawn care is a gladiatorial event. Harry was weed-eating around a tree in the back yard, not realizing there was a nest under the roots.
“There was nothing that I noticed. Then all of a sudden I was just swarmed,” Harry said.
They’ve had the occasional wasp nest before but never an infestation to this extent. It’s been so miserable outside that Erin allowed something she swore she never would.
“We’ve been in this house 38 years,” Erin said. “Never have we cleaned …
“I had two reds to clean,” Harry said.
“And so I was finally like, ‘OK.’ He cleaned two fish in my kitchen. That’s never happened,” Erin said.
They sprayed all the nests they could find — in the eaves (one the size of a volleyball), under the deck, in the shed and in the ground.
They ordered special sticky wasp traps to hang around the house and searched for do-it-yourself ideas. One was to hang paper lunch sacks filled with newspaper in the eaves. Wasps apparently won’t build a nest if they think there’s another already in the vicinity.
They’ve got two types of traps in the yard. One is made from a plastic water cooler jug. Using a grinder, they cut a hole about 6 inches up from the base and filled the bottom with water. Then they hung a chunk of fish from a round fishing lead that sits in the opening of the jug. The meat attracts the wasps, and they drown when they fall in the water.
“This is amazing! This has been out about an hour, too,” Erin said.
The Lockwoods also have a few 5-gallon buckets around the yard. Those have water in the bottom, mixed with dish soap or cooking oil to lessen the surface tension. There’s fish tied to a stick laid across the top of the bucket. Same idea — wasps comes for the meat, fall in the water and drown.
“Wow, what a trip this is,” Erin said.
Though the Lockwoods have exterminated thousands of wasps this summer, they probably won’t be free of the problem until the first fall frost.
Until then, Matney says the best solution is to avoid wasps. If you have outside activities to do that will attract wasps — like cleaning fish — do it early in the morning, late in the evening or when it’s cool and rainy.
If you are stung, watch for signs of an allergic reaction. If swelling, dizziness or shortness of breath occur, seek medial attention immediately.
Matney says covering up is his best strategy against being stung. Wasps unfortunately aren’t as easily deterred as the more common Alaska summer pest.
“They’re very strong little guys and they don’t stop for mosquito repellent or anything like that. And, so, if they smell food or think you’re food or are defending, nothing like that will stop them. So it’s just best to kind of armor yourself up through protective clothing, stay away from them and minimize your contact during the hours they’re most active,” Matney said.
The Cooperative Extension Service has more information on wasps available on its website, www.uaf.edu/ces.