It’s early august and the air above the ground is abuzz. Literally. I can’t recall another summer in the Pinaleños with so many yellow jackets, or western yellow jackets (Vespula pennsylvanica).
It appears that yellow jacket populations can increase dramatically following a mild winter, which we had last year. I also learned something new! This is probably a “duh” moment for some folks – but I did not know that western yellow jackets nest in the ground. I began seeing signs such as these – underground wasp nests dug up by bears. Once I began watching the wasps, I could see them entering underground nests everywhere. This makes hiking around in the forest treacherous since you have to constantly watch where you step. Several colleagues inadvertently stepped on underground nest openings with painful results. Yellow jackets also nest in dead trees. I found this out while measuring a dead tree, or snag, as part of a red squirrel habitat assessment plot. I was stung several times, they don’t give up easily!