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Thursday, Sept. 15, 2005 02:58 pm

The sting's the thing

Time's running out on late-summer nuisances

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Many of us are enjoying cooler temperatures by getting outside and having a picnic, attending a family reunion, or spending the day at an arts-and-crafts festival. These activities, which usually involve food and beverages, may attract some uninvited guests. You know who I’m talking about: those stinging bugs sporting yellow-and-black jackets.

Believe it or not, yellowjackets are considered beneficial insects because they pollinate plants and feed on other insects, such as flies and caterpillars. Yellowjackets often become a nuisance August through October.

The two common species of yellowjackets found in Illinois are the Eastern yellowjacket, which usually nests in the ground, and the German yellowjacket, which has a habit of nesting in walls. Yellowjackets are often confused with honeybees, but honeybees lack the distinctive stripe pattern.

Yellowjackets, which have the ability to sting multiple times, are responsible for about half of all insect stings. The stings are rarely life-threatening, unless a person is allergic to the venom. Easily provoked, a yellowjacket stings only to inflict pain.

Here are a few simple rules to follow to decrease your chances of being stung by a yellowjacket:

• Quick movement often provokes an attack. Never swing, swat, or strike at a yellowjacket. Likewise, try to avoid running from a yellowjacket. If a yellowjacket lands on your skin to take a drink of sweat, be patient; the bug will fly away. If necessary, blow or gently brush it away.

• Yellowjackets will attack collectively. Avoid stepping on a ground nest. Never strike, swing at, or crush a wasp against your body; this could incite nearby yellowjackets to mount a frenzied attack. Squashing a yellowjacket releases a chemical that signals other wasps in the area to attack.

• Any scent of food attracts wasps and bees. When eating outdoors, keep foods, especially fruit and soft drinks, covered. Yellowjackets have a habit of feeding on sugar. Drink from cups with lids or open cups; yellowjackets often enter open beverage cans, and a swallowed yellowjacket may sting your throat. Good sanitation is important. Keep garbage containers clean. Seal trash in a container with a tight-fitting lid. If you have fruit trees, pick the fruit as soon as it is ripe. Pick up and dispose of any fallen fruit rotting on the ground.

• Other scents and colors attract yellowjackets. Floral-scented perfumes, hairspray, suntan lotion, heavy-scented soaps and shampoos, and shiny jewelry all attract yellowjackets. Avoid wearing brightly colored (especially yellow) or flowery-print clothing. Wear a hat and closed-toe shoes.

For more information, including control measures to deal with yellowjacket nests, visit the University of Illinois Integrated Pest Management site, www.ipm.uiuc.edu/hyg/insects/yellowjackets/index.html, or refer to a fact sheet offered by the Ohio State University Extension, ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/2000/2075.html.

Saving seeds, pressing flowers

The University of Illinois Extension Sangamon-Menard Unit Master Gardeners will host a demonstration on “Seed Collecting and Preserving Flowers” at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20. The presentation, which will last 30 minutes, will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

Free and open to the public, the program will be held in the Identification Garden at the University of Illinois Extension Building at the fairgrounds. For information, call 217-782-4617.

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