The Buzz on a Bumper Crop of Yellow Jackets
Why there have been so many wasps this year, the latest trails to watch out for wasps, and tips to keep from getting stung.
We've heard from a number of trip reporters, Hike-a-Thoners and hikers on Facebook and Twitter that they've been running into yellow jackets (a type of predatory wasp) and hornets. Or rather, yellow jackets have been running into them, stinger-side first. (See the list of recent encounters below.)
The Department of Natural Resources posed some possible explanations on their blog today:
"This year seems to be a banner year for yellow jackets, bald faced hornets, and similar stinging insects. It may be related to the cool, spring conditions that boosted the population of aphids, a popular food source for yellow jackets. Aphids are the full meal deal. They are “meat” to predatory yellow jackets. When aphids suck plant juices, they take in sugary fluids, but not much protein. They keep sucking to obtain more protein, excreting extra, unneeded sugary fluids as droplets that are commonly called “honeydew.” Yellow jackets collect the honeydew droplets from the rear ends of the aphids themselves. Some collect the sticky, sugary liquid or dried sugars from other surfaces like stems, leaves, or parked cars beneath aphid-infested trees. It may have been the honeydew droplets in the spring that are allowing yellow jackets to thrive now."
So there you have it.
Tips for avoiding hornets or yellow jacket stings
- Sensitive to stings? Take extra precautions. Most importantly, if you have an allergy or are highly senstive to stings, ask your doctor about adding a sting emergency kit to your first aid kit. This might contain an EpiPen (syringes with premeasured doses of aqueous epinephrine for injection) antihistamine tablets, and frequently an inhaler, which may also contain epinephrine. Also, tell your fellow hikers where you keep the emergency kit in your pack before you start hiking.
- Hike when (and where) it's cooler. Try hiking earlier in the day, when cool temperatures keep stinging insects in their nests. And once nighttime temperatures drop into the 30s, the wasp activity will die down.
- Keep dogs on leash. It's the best way to keep curious pups from nosing up a whole heap of stinging trouble.
- Avoid strong scents. The WSU Cooperative Extension suggests not wearing perfumes, hair sprays, or other strong scents when in areas with abundant paper wasps and yellowjackets.
- Be smart about the color of your shirt. When you pass known nests, consider covering up your brightly colored clothing, particularly yellow, orange and red. It is hunting season, though, so if you're hiking on land where hunting is permitted, you'll be safer keeping your orange on.
- Don't give them an opening. If you think you might encounter wasps, they'll likely be coming from the ground up. To avoid them getting trapped in your pants, tuck your pants in or wear gaiters.
- Know your cranky hornet from your harmless bumblebee. And remember, most stinging insets, while annoying, are considered beneficial to the environment. WSU entomogist Richard Zack recently told KPLU: "They're actually beneficial. They're out there, picking up caterpillars, aphids, beetles and flies. So they're good predatory insects."
If you get stung, the WSU Cooperative Extension says that applying an antihistamine ointment or take one orally (like Benedryl) may reduce the effects of the sting.
Where hikers have reported being stung
For the remainder of this season, be careful on these spots on trail, and report any stinging insects you run into in a trip report.
- Blue Canoe was stung on the Rainy Lake Trail "About 3/4 of the way to the lake, just before crossing the last creek, we had a run-in with a bunch of mean, angry hornets. We were each stung multiple times. Hiking out the next day, we met two day-hikers who also were stung at the same place. Use extreme caution for the rest of the summer on this trail, and avoid this hike entirely if you are allergic to bee stings."
- a3, hikenwineguy and our own Kindra Ramos reported a hornets nest on the Park Butte Trail. hikenwineguy says it's "about halfway through the switchbacks"
- Eagle Lake has a hornets nest "located on the first 1/3rd of the trail" says Timberline244
- Carol T. reported a yellow jacket nest "About 1 mile in" to Huckleberry Mountain.
- One of our lead Hike-a-Thoners, Gwen Tollefson, was stung 11 times on a hike to Tunnel Creek in August.
- Another Hike-a-Thoner (and running coach Holly Weiler) reports a wasp nest on the summit of Iller Creek.
- Cruizenbye reports (and marked with orange tape) a nest in the middle of the trail at Rampart Lakes on the Rocky Run trail just before the junction to Laura Lake.
Some of the best trails of the year can be hiked right now, though, so don't let the fear of a few little bug-gers keep you at home. Just watch your step.