When your yard is scarier than a zombie apocalypse, you probably have yellow jackets. These bad tempered insects are fiercely protective of their nests, and will grow agitated at any sign of danger. If you have had the unfortunate opportunity to be near a nest full of agitated yellow jackets, you know how fast they can move. They fly in circular patterns, and draw into skin like a bead of metal to a magnet. Once there, the stinger in their bobbing tail can poke several times, if the yellow jacket is not swept off. For most people, these stings are like a hot poker on the skin. For others, the venom is toxic, and requires hospitalization. Of all the stinging insects you will run into this fall, yellow jackets are the most aggressive.
Before we get into the dangers of yellow jacket ground nests, let's discuss the types of stinging insects you'll most likely encounter, and how to distinguish them from yellow jackets.
Bumblebees, honey bees, and africanized honey bees, are the bees you will most commonly see around your yard. All bees are somewhat yellow and black, and covered in fur--which they use to collect pollen.
Bumblebees are the largest, and the most docile. These large happy bees are great for gardens.
Honey bees are another docile creature, happy to pollinate your flowers, and create honey in their hive. These bees are often mistaken for yellow jackets. Look closely for the fur, to differentiate between the two.
Of all the bees you will encounter, africanized honey bees are the most aggressive. They will give chase if they consider you a threat. Fortunately, like all bees, they can only sting you once, and then they aren't long for this world. But, a swarm can sting you several times. So, watch out.
Wasps come in many colors, and resemble bees without the fur. Their shiny plastic appearance gives them a deadly look, and for good reason. Wasps can sting multiple times without losing their stinger. But in general, most wasps aren't interested in you, unless you threaten them. Yellow jackets are the exception to the rule. Though they are wasps, they are easily provoked.
The only real difference between wasps and hornets is that hornets are fatter, and more aggressive. The one exception to this rule are the yellow jackets. There is nothing more aggressive than a yellow jacket.
Yellow jackets make their nests in trees, and in holes dug out by squirrels, moles, chipmunks, groundhogs, and other digging mammals. These ground nests are the worst, because the ground offers protection against easy removal, and because they are much harder to see. The only indication that yellow jackets are present, is the entering and exiting of wasps from their hole, and these holes can be quite small.
Being underground creates another problem, because vibration can cause yellow jackets to get defensive, and they will fly out in a swarm to protect their nest. The simple act of mowing the lawn, or watering flowers, can instigate fierce and painful response from a nest of yellow jackets.
If your home and yard are prone to yellow jacket nesting, don't risk being stung, get a professional to come and root out those nests. Filling a nest hole with water will only infuriate these wasps. And using a can of wasp spray has the potential to produce dangerous results. Underground nests can be quite large, and the wasps at the bottom will crawl through the poisoned carcasses of their fallen brethren, to get to you. These wasps are not fun to mess with. Be safe and, get professional assistance.