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Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


Non-toxic Yellowjacket & Paper

Wasp Control

 By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer


July 2013 issue  


      Last year, in Kalispell , Montana , a 14-year-old Appaloosa/Tennessee Walker scratched its back on a tree that had a swarm of feral honeybees in the branches. Honeybees swarm in a cluster of thousands of bees when they outgrow one hive and part of the colony goes in search of another home.

      The swarm fell onto the horse’s back. A swarm is not usually aggressive (they don’t have larvae to defend), but the fall must have alarmed these bees and they stung the horse, which went into anaphylactic shock, and in spite of immediate and intensive veterinary care, died three days later.  

      This was a highly unusual circumstance, because honeybees are known for their non-aggressive behavior.

      Unlike honeybees, some wasps (especially yellowjackets), can be a nuisance around homes and barns, and can be dangerous when riding. It is a good idea to understand their life cycle, what attracts them, and how to control them.  


Non-toxic Yellowjacket & Paper Wasp Control

      All bees and wasps are beneficial insects, and using non-toxic control targeted at the problem species is good for us, our animals, and our environment.

      While all wasps have painful stings, and can sting more than once, yellowjackets are more likely to be where humans are and can be very aggressive.

      There are at least eleven species of yellowjackets in our area. Most nest underground, and some build paper nests — either hanging or between walls or in barns and attics.

      All wasps are hairless. Yellowjackets are about a half-inch long, and are yellow and black. Paper wasps are very similar to yellowjackets but are more slender and have longer, dangling legs in flight.

      Mated yellowjacket and paper wasp queens hibernate, often underground, or in logs or wood piles, when her colony of the year dies in cold weather (a nest is only used once). Each queen begins her new colony in early spring by building a small paper nest in a sheltered place. She builds a 20- to 50-cell nest and lays a fertilized egg in each cell, which grows into a legless grub and pupates into an unfertile female worker wasp in about three weeks.

      Mature workers take over enlarging the nest and foraging for food while the queen stays home and lays more eggs. The workers also defend the nest, vigorously. Workers forage for insects, chew them up, and feed the mash to the larvae. In return, larvae secrete a sort of irresistible nectar that the workers eat.  


      During summer, workers begin to outnumber larvae and there is not enough larvae nectar to supply all the workers. Workers then seek out other sweet sources such as ripe fruit and sweet food and drinks — and become a real problem to humans.

      They also leave a pheromone marker that labels the animal or person stung as an enemy to other yellowjackets and attracts them to sting. The stinger is a hollow tube that connects to a venom sac inside the abdomen. After the stinger punctures skin, muscles pump venom into the victim.

      In late summer, yellowjackets become more defensive of nests and more aggressive. Any disturbance can trigger a mass attack.

      Colorful clothes and sweet-scented perfume, lotion or shampoo can attract yellowjackets. White or tan clothing is best to not attract them. Loose clothing can trap a yellowjacket, causing more stings. Citronella, mint and eucalyptus oil may repel them. Commercial insect repellents can actually attract them. When eating outside, don’t leave soft drink or beer containers open, or food uncovered.

      If you disturb an underground yellowjacket nest when riding (the vibration of a horse’s feet may alarm an underground nest), try to stay on your horse (which may react by bucking and/or running) and move quickly away. The quicker you can safely get away, the better. If you are walking, cover your face and run. Yellowjackets will defend their nest up to few hundred feet.

      A variety of effective non-toxic yellowjacket traps are on the market, but you can easily and cheaply make a dozen that are just as effective. Place a few at least twenty feet away from where people gather.

Hang a piece of meat or fish just over soapy water in a bucket, bowl or dish pan. Soap breaks the surface tension and helps the wasp to drown. Place where pets cannot get it and change bait ever day or so. Yellowjackets drop down into the water after feeding and drown.

    Cut two one-inch holes in a gallon milk jug in the upper third of the bottle. Place about two inches of soapy water in the bottom. Hang a piece of meat and/or a piece of cardboard smeared with jelly inside the bottle over the water on a string or wire and replace cap to hold it in place.  


     Cut the top third off of a large plastic soda bottle, rub the outside of the top with fruit jelly and place it upside down (cap-less) in the bottle. Staple or tape it to the sides. Pour an inch or two of citrus-flavored carbonated soft drink into the bottle bottom. Yellowjackets crawl down through the top and can’t figure out how to get out and drown.

     To trap paper wasps, use this trap and bait it with a little yeast and soap added to diluted fruit juice. They are attracted to the fermented juice, and the soap helps break the surface of the liquid so they drown more easily.

Empty, clean and re-bait the trap when full (or toss it and make a new one).

For more information, download the University of Idaho Homeowner Guide to Yellowjackets, Bald-Faced Hornets and Paper Wasps, at



Yellowjackets eating watermelon.


Paper wasps and nest.

Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;

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