|Yellow Jackets coming out of
an underground nest (Photo courtesy of
South Texas Nature Images on Flikr)
Yellow Jackets usually nest in the ground, often using an old rabbit hole or other tunnel, so they are very hard to see until it is too late This one was covered by the crown of the fallen tree. I was so intent on choosing and cutting my salvaged branches that I did not notice the wasps until a swarm was buzzing around me.
Luckily I was wearing heavy pants tucked into my boots, in preparation for tromping through underbrush in the ditch where the tree fell. Good thing, because those little buggers grabbed onto the cloth of my pants and really hung on -- if I had been wearing shorts, I would have had stings all over my legs. As it was, I only got 3 on my arms and one on my face as I high-tailed it out of there. (This is why I'm always telling people NOT to wear shorts in the woods. Sure it's hot wearing long pants -- but even worse getting scratched up or stung!)
While on the subject of Yellow Jackets, you may notice that there seem to be a lot more of them around your picnic table in the fall. This is because during the summer they feed their young on insects, so they don't have much interest in your bottle of pop or your jelly roll. But in the fall, after the new queens have flown and the colony starts to break up, the worker wasps switch to a sugary diet -- and start buzzing around your outdoor events. Suddenly it seems as if the population has exploded overnight. I myself have noticed a lot more of them around my hummingbird feeders lately -- and now I know where they are all coming from! But really, they have been increasing steadily all summer, you just don't see many until fall.
Unlike honey bees, wasp and hornet colonies don't winter over. The new queens fly and mate, then find a place to hibernate for the winter. The rest of the wasps die off with the cold weather. So, after we get a few hard frosts, I'll be able to return to that tree and safely salvage some birch sticks.