Sep 20 2011

Look Before You Drink!

Published by at 7:31 am under Insects, Fish, Frogs,Phenology

Watch out!  There might be a yellow jacket in your soda can!

All summer long we’ve been able to eat outdoors without being plagued by yellow jacket wasps, but now it’s downright dangerous to put the can to your lips unless you’ve guarded it from these invaders.

Why do they do this?

Yellow jackets are members of the Vespidae family (wasps) who build papery nests underground.  Last spring a single fertilized female, the queen, came out of the crevice she hid in all winter.  She built a few papery cells underground, laid some eggs, tended the nest and fed the larvae.  Within 30 days her eggs became sterile female workers. 

The colony was born.  From that point forward the queen merely laid “worker” eggs and her growing population of sterile females did all the work.  They tended the nest, and collected insect prey (meat) to feed the larvae.  They weren’t interested in sweets.

But in late summer a change occurs.  The queen lays eggs that become males and fertile females who leave the colony to mate when they mature.  Meanwhile, the queen stops laying eggs and colony social life breaks down.  The workers stop tending the remaining larvae and leave the nest to go roaming.  Now they’re looking for sweets to eat — fallen apples and your can of sweet soda. 

This will end.  By late fall all the yellow jackets will die and the newly fertilized queens will retreat to their crevices to wait out the winter and restart the cycle next spring.

Coincidentally, we stop eating outdoors by then so we don’t notice.

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p.s.  Do you have a yellow jacket story?  Leave a comment to share it with us.

(photo from Wikimedia Commons in the public domain.  Click on the photo to see the original.)

7 responses so far

7 Responses to “Look Before You Drink!”

  1. Karissaon 20 Sep 2011 at 9:44 am

    In the summer before my freshman year of high school, a few of my friends put together a picnic to celebrate the summer one last time. Of course there were cans of pop. I clearly remember thinking that I had seen little buzzing insects around the cans when we ran back to the pavilion. I took a sip from my Mountain Dew and found, within seconds, that the drink had much more punch than I remembered. That’s because the buzzer stung my lip from inside my mouth…

    It hurt a lot, but it hurt worse when I went to band camp the following Monday and attempted to play my trombone.

    Now, any time I have a can of anything outdoors, I am vigilant. (I also watch my friends’ cans just to be sure no one has a buzzer in their mouth like I did. Oww!)

  2. Jon 20 Sep 2011 at 1:18 pm

    One summer during the mid 90′s I was at my aunt and uncles house for a cookout and doing some swimming. At one point I was standing on their deck drinking a can of caffeine free pepsi. I took a sip then felt an insect on the outside of my lower lip and when I went to brush it away it stung my lip. I never actually saw it and it forunately didn’t leave the stinger behind. That was the first of only 2 times I’ve ever been stung.

  3. Kate St. Johnon 20 Sep 2011 at 7:38 pm

    I never drank a yellow jacket but I came mighty close. Fortunately I heard it buzzing in the can and paused to check!

  4. Joshon 22 Sep 2011 at 11:43 am

    Wait, so the deal is that the yellow-jackets change their diet because they’re freed from their thralldom? Somehow I never would have guessed that.

  5. Steve-oon 22 Sep 2011 at 12:48 pm

    Being the semi-paranoid that I am, I do 2 things to keep them out of my cans of pop. I will turn the tab around in order to block part of the hole. And after the level of liquid drops I’ll blow into the can before I take a drink. I can only say that this anecdotally works as I’ve never been stung.

  6. Kate St. Johnon 22 Sep 2011 at 3:02 pm

    Actually, Josh, I think they change their diet because they “know” they’re going to die. It’s the end of their life and they probably figure all that sugar won’t kill them. ;)

  7. kellyon 22 Sep 2011 at 5:40 pm

    As a kid I always remember yellow-jackets buzzing around everyone’s hot drinks come fall soccer season. I reasoned that they were attracted to the heat. Maybe they were attracted to any sweetener added or within which would have been tremendous in a hot cocoa, for instance.

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