Freshman Findings: Finding shelter from the swarm
Bees and wasps have been present on campus since the start of the semester but have become a real nuisance the past few weeks. With temperatures dropping, many other insects are dying, leaving yellow jackets with limited means of sustenance.
Yellow jackets are carnivorous, unlike honeybees which feed on pollen and nectar from plants. Yellow jackets have smooth, defined bodies while honeybees are plump and fuzzy. Most bees are harmless to humans unless threatened, whereas yellow jackets often sting without provocation.
According to ento.psu.com, these wasps are most likely German Yellow Jackets of the Vespula species that are common in the Northeastern United States. Around this time of year, they tend to get aggressive all over northern parts of the country, including at Rider. They have been reported to be harassing students and staff along sidewalks, around residence halls, and outside Cranberry’s and Daly’s. Because their food source is now limited, these wasps must scavenge for food, particularly protein and sugar, in garbage cans, according to beyondpesticides.com. They also hover around people during lunch, hence the numerous accounts of stings at Rider.
According to Dr. Jonathan Karp of Rider’s Biology Department, stings from yellow jackets, however, are not simple. “A person who is allergic has probably been exposed before,” he said. “Your immune system has gotten a little taste of the venom and generates a hypersensitivity response if that venom ever shows up again. It’s the same theory behind immunizations.”
Such stings are initially painful and most commonly result in redness, itching and swelling. In more serious cases, a person may develop life-threatening reactions to the venom. Most people are not allergic to bee and/or wasp stings and often mistake a body’s normal reaction for an allergic reaction. However, those who are allergic must be wary of the outdoors, especially during this time of year when bee and wasp stings are most common.
If you are stung, be sure to treat the area as soon as possible in order to avoid complications. According to WebMD, it would be wise to scrape off the stinger rather than pull it out because pulling results in increased venom entering the victim’s system. Placing ice on the affected area will reduce swelling and the burning sensation that comes with a sting.
It is important also to remember that while the yellow jackets may seem like pesky pests, they are beneficial to the environment.
“They do play an important role in controlling other pesty garden insects, like caterpillars and aphids,” said Dr. Laura Hyatt of the Biology Department.
Karp explained that yellow jackets use their venom to get food. “They hunt by stinging other insects, and the toxins in there cause the insects to become immobilized then die.”
Still, the only way to be rid of them is to eliminate their nests. Simple steps can be taken to ensure the safety of Rider staff and students. Garbage cans and dumpsters should be tightly sealed, keeping food out of reach of yellow jackets. As for the bins that cannot be sealed, they should be emptied more frequently in order to lessen the swarms that currently surround them. Yellow jackets, with the exception of their queen, will die off when winter sets in, but cutting off their food supply will keep them away in the mean time, which is important during these months when the insects are most aggressive.
Facilities can take other steps to steer these pests away from Rider. Openings in siding, lamps and roofs should also be closed off to prevent hive formation. According to DoYourOwnPestControl.com, nests can be treated with pyrethrum aerosols which release a gas lethal to yellow jackets. Treatment will be most effective when performed at night, when all yellow jackets will be present in the hive. Also, wasps have poor eyesight so the risk of a sting is greatly reduced. Yellow jacket bait stations and traps are also available for sale and contain insecticide which is useful for exterminating various types of insects including mosquitoes, spiders, bed bugs, and even yellow jacket wasps.
These few simple steps could help keep Rider staff and students safe from stings for years to come.
Freshman journalism major
Printed in the 10/22/14 issue.