yellow jacket

How to Outsmart a Yellow Jacket

Have you been fending off yellow jackets lately? Well, they are fierce foragers.  This time of year populations are at their peak, and as they compete for a dwindling food supply, tensions are high. Trust me when I say that these pin-striped masterminds do not care to be bothered.

Whether you are allergic or not, it is best to avoid being stung, and the best way to keep from getting stung is to outsmart them.  Here are the top 5 ways to do just that.

#5 Do not be afraid. Do yellow jackets smell fear? I don’t know, but it sure seems like it. Either way, being afraid of them is not going to help you outsmart them.  Face your fear by learning about yellow jackets. Find out where they live, what they eat, and what pushes their buttons.  By knowing more about these beneficial predators, you will learn how to avoid them and their stings.

#4 Be aware of your surroundings.  Yellow jackets like to build nests in hollow spaces, which sometimes includes holes in the ground.  As you walk in your yard or the park, watch for holes.  Avoid walking on or disturbing their homes.  

#3 Think before you drink.  Sipping sweet tea in the sun sure sounds nice, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, yellow jackets like sweet drinks, too.  Keep your drinks covered when spending time outdoors this time of year, and before you take a sip, look in your cup or straw first.

#2 Cover your trash and hide your meats.   Open trash cans and meats are yellow jacket magnets in the summer time.  As natural predators of caterpillars, flies, and the like, yellow jackets like meat as much as the next carnivore.  Expect confrontation around the garbage can or when grilling meats, and be prepared to retreat.

#1 When confronted, take the high road.  Walk away quickly in a straight line. Swatting and jumping around will only bring more attention to yourself.  Separating yourself from the yellow jacket in a determined way is important, because unlike honey bees who often self-eviscerate themselves when stinging, yellow jackets will sting repeatedly.

There’s just one more thing.  No matter how smart you are, accidents happen.  If you get stung, calmly get away from the yellow jacket and perform basic first aid or seek medical attention if needed.  If allergic to yellow jacket venom, have epinephrine with you at all times, and use it as your doctor instructed.  While most reactions to insect stings cause mild, short-lived reactions, about 0.8% of kids and 3% of adults have life-threatening, allergic reactions to hymenoptera venom (ex. yellow jacket, hornet, wasp, bee).  If you think you’re allergic to yellow jackets, bees, or the like, talk with your doctor.  They may refer you to an allergist who can help with diagnosing and treating your allergy.

Now get out there and enjoy what’s left of the nice weather!  With these simple tips, you’ll be sure to outsmart the next yellow jacket you see.

Amber Patterson, MD
Amber M. Patterson, MD, works in the Section of Allergy and Immunology at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. As a wife and mother of 3, she is passionate about harnessing efficiency to create time. Her current projects to make allergy care more efficient include: researching intralymphatic immunotherapy (a new form of allergy shots), innovating allergy/immunology education, and inventing better ways to test and treat for allergies. Dr. Patterson wants to teach her patients how to feel better quicker and stay healthy longer. The Pattersons enjoy being outdoors (playing, biking, swimming, gardening), reading, and rooting for the Buckeyes. OH-!

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