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Massive yellow jacket nests appearing in Alabama; don’t disturb!

Imagine a colony of yellow jackets the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, filled with 15,000 of the stinging insects. Now, imagine more than 90 of these super nests in Alabama. It happened in 2006, and Charles Ray, an entomologist working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said that 2019 may be shaping up to mirror that year.

It’s called a perennial yellow jacket nest. Entomologists believe that milder winters combined with an abundant food supply allow some colonies to survive and enter spring with much larger numbers. Additionally, the normal cues that would cause queens to disperse may not happen. Researchers have documented that these massive colonies often have multiple queens.

A normal yellow jacket nest is usually located in the ground or a cavity. It may peak at 4,000 to 5,000 workers that do not survive cold weather, leaving queens to disperse and form new colonies in the spring.

The perennial yellow jacket nests that concern Ray bear little resemblance to normal colonies.

“These perennial nests may be several feet wide and have many thousands of workers, far more than an average nest,” Ray says. “We have found them attached to home exteriors and other places you might not expect to find yellow jackets.”

Ray offers important tips for people who think they may have a giant yellow jacket colony on their property.

“First and foremost, do not disturb the nest,” Ray says. “While these giant nests often appear less aggressive than smaller colonies, it is important that people do not disturb the nests.”

Next, Ray wants people to contact him so he can document the nest and collect insect specimens. People should contact him by email at raychah@auburn.edu.

Finally, if people need to have nests removed, Ray says it is a task only for licensed commercial pest control operators. He warns that even some commercial operators will not tackle these giant perennial yellow jacket nests.