STOPPING YELLOW JACKET PREDATION!

This is the time of year when Yellow Jackets are desperate for meat and sweets to store for winter survival!  This is the time of year when they go after beehives in earnest as a primary source for their winter supply!  Two years ago, yellow jackets succeeded in reducing or destroying my strongest hives in as little as 3 weeks!  I had not paid as much attention to my apiary during October as I had earlier in the year, but had been doing battle with yellow jacket predation all year.  I was amazed on November 1st when I went out to evaluate my hives for winter stores, and winterize them, only to find that, not only were they lighter weight than they were just 3 weeks prior, but my second strongest hive which had 3 full deep Langstroth boxes of bees just 3 weeks prior, was acting like it was being robbed!  I necked down the entrance and tried to apply measures against robbing, but it didn’t seem to help!  After a day or so, I went out at night to inspect and found the hive totally empty.  The bees I had seen during the day (along with yellowjackets) were not from that hive, but ALL ROBBING!  HOLY CRAP!  What happened?  The next morning I went out and opened my strongest hive to inspect, and found that the queen and less than a frame of bees were balled up in the upper super!  SERIOUSLY, HOLY CRAP!  This hive was 4 deep boxes FULL OF BEES 3 to 4 weeks prior!

As I sat there scratching my head in total amazement, wondering if I had experienced CCD, or if someone had used pesticides near me, I noticed a steady stream of YELLOW JACKETS going in and out of all of my hives without being checked at the door by guards!  At first glance, it didn’t register that this could be the problem, since I had been doing battle more or less all year with yellow jackets… However this steady stream was pretty significant!  I’m aware of what they call the dripping faucet problem, where someone actually captured the drips from a dripping faucet and found that it added up to thousands of gallons over a month!  I did noticed that due to the colder temperature, the bees were absent from the entrances as guards, and the yellow jackets had carte-blanche access to the hives in the morning, and again the evenings when it was too cold for bees.  As I sat there and observed, I noticed yellow jacket after yellow jacket leaving the hives with either bellies full of honey, or bee parts!  In addition to the two strong hives, I had 2 or 3 smaller hives that I had been nursing all summer, which I had necked down their entrances to aid against robbing.  These smaller colonies were actually now stronger than what remained of my strongest hive!  I had believed that the strong hives were strong enough to fend off the yellow jackets without having to neck them down, (and they did for most of the summer), so they were open to at least half of the bottom board.

Once I realized that the yellow jackets were most likely the cause of this tragedy, I conversed with my brother about it, and began looking for ways to seriously step up my game with killing yellow jackets!  I had already made a zapper grid that I placed over a bucket and learned that if I sprinkled powdered sugar in the bucket and waited until there was 50 or a hundred wasps inside, and then turned on the zapper, I could kill them in large numbers, but while this helped, they just kept coming all summer long!  I wanted now to find a way to go after the yellow jacket nests themselves!  I even tried to catch and tag them with strips of toilet paper or thread to observe where they were going but was not successful in finding their dens!  In talking with my brother who had lived in Tennessee for many years, he informed me of two poisons that they used back there for ants and cockroaches, which worked by feeding them a slow acting poison, which they carry back to their nests and feed to the babies and the queen.  These were very effective at eliminating both cockroaches and ants!

So I purchased both of these poisons, TERRO ANT KILLER, and HOTSHOT ROACH KILLER from my local Lowes, and proceeded to begin experimenting with baiting yellow jackets.  I had tried several of the hanging yellow jacket traps over the years with minimal success.  It is of course counter intuitive to place poisons on or near beehives, but I’d already lost the war so I was out to find a way to win for the future!  To my pleasant surprise, the yellow jackets loved the Terro straight out of the bottle, and dripping it on top of the hives that were under attack, soon proved to be very effective!  I found that the bees were not attracted to the Terro, but the yellow jackets were!  I compared the labels of Terro and Hotshot, and behold, they were both using a borax based formula (at that time)!  Hotshot is a powder so I mixed Hotshot with powdered sugar and sprinkled it on top of hives as well.  The bees pretty much left that alone as well.  I think I only killed 3 bees in all of the hours that I observed, to prevent them from carrying any back into the hives.  Within 2 days, the yellow jackets were pretty much gone and it became hard to find any!  On the 3rd day a major storm came in and dropped temperatures to sub freezing for over a week, getting all the way down to zero!  After it warmed back up, I still could not find any yellow jackets.  Now scientifically, one should not draw any serious conclusions from this experience.  It simply is not enough data to say that the baiting worked, or if the cold snap had anything to do with it.  So I waited patiently for next spring, but began a campaign of talking to every local beekeeper I could find, and trying to learn if they were having similar problems with yellow jackets.  The answer was not only yes, but most all I talked to had lost there hives entirely prior to winter!

Talking with Utah State entomologists, as well as both the Weber County Bee Inspector and the Davis County Bee inspectors, the consensus was that yellow jackets are opportunists and not the primary cause of failure for beehives!  They felt that probably Varoa mites were probably the principle reason for the decline and yellow jackets were just being opportunists.  Yes I had Varoa, and my counts were officially measured by the state entomologist in late August.  So I did not voice any disagreement with these experts, at that time, but my understanding is that much of the devastation to colonies from mites takes place in early winter.  My bees had had mites most of the summer in spite of my attempts with both powdered sugar treatments and Apistan, but had not yet diminished significantly.  However my observations were that yellow jackets may have been opportunistic earlier on, by going after some bees on the ground (due to the mites and some deformed wing syndrome), but at some point they began just charging the gates and plowing through guards to enter hives and then exit with all the bounty!  This extreme aggressive behavior resulted in full on attack with success on my hives!  Eventually the guards were gone, the colder temperatures caused all bees to have to go inside and ball up during morning and evening hours when it was colder, but the yellow jackets kept on flying, applying their carnage nearly down to freezing outside!  This observation made it evident that certainly during the fall months when temperatures drop, our bees are most vulnerable to yellow jacket predation!  I believe that the act of entering hives with such aggression is a learned behavior which was a natural progression after finding bees on the ground, which was because of the Varoa.  I also learned from others who have battled yellow jackets that in the spring, basically every yellow jacket is a queen seeking to start a nest, so everyone that you kill is a potential entire colony of yellow jackets!

So I’ve been studying yellow jackets and observing behaviors now for 2 years.  This year I was particularly vigilant at killing and baiting yellow jackets at first sign in the spring, and quickly succeeded in reducing them to pretty much no observed yellow jackets by end of March.  I learned that if you take a small pump sprayer and fill it with strong soapy water (Dawn Dish Soap seams to work best), it kills pretty much all soft-bodied insects nearly as fast as the poison insect sprays!  Did everybody read that?  READ IT AGAIN!  Heavy soapy Dawn Dish water kills soft insects FAST!  Hey I give these sprayers to my grand kids and have zero concern for toxic sprays!

Using my sprayer, I simply spend about 15 to 30 minutes a day when possible, during attack periods, shooting yellow jackets when they slow down while looking for bees, and it kills them in seconds!  When they find my apiary and begin going after bees on the ground, this is my entertainment.  Who needs a video game?  This is real life carnage and revenge that is challenging!  I’m about as accurate as one can get with a pump sprayer!  And when they get really out of hand, I go for the baiting.

FINALLY SUCCESS!  This year my bees were strong as ever!  I actually extracted 5 gallons each from two strong hives, and literally had zero yellow jackets most of the summer.  They have been ramping up since September, and I’m now baiting again prior to winter.  What about the mites?  OAV!  I made an Oxalid Acid vaporizer and used it last December and as near as I could tell, it got 100%  I did not see a single mite this year until end of August (well after extracting honey).  They may have been there a bit sooner, but not until after I had already extracted, and my hives have pretty much replaced what I took prior to this coming winter!  The mites have come on strong through September and I chose to treat my hives with a light treatment of OAV to minimize damage until they go broodless in December.  Then I will treat them again.

In Summary:  After observing yellow jackets critically for two years, after deciding that they can become primary predators through learned behavior, and not just opportunistic predators on honeybees, I’ve observed a pattern of opportunistic behavior in yellow jackets in the beginning, with just milling around looking for bees on the ground, followed by a more aggressive attack behavior directly entering hives.  After taking on sick bees from the ground and learning of their abundant source (undoubtedly due to Varoa), yellow jackets soon began going after the bees and honey in the hives themselves!  Once they began this more aggressive behavior, they eventually take out any guards that existed, and then pretty much have carte-blanche access to both honey and bees!  I observed this spring that the older, bigger yellow jackets that did show up in the spring, went right for the more aggressive attack directly on the hives even after Varoa had been eliminated and there were no bees on the ground, because they already learned this behavior the year before.  I perceived this as a huge issue since they would teach any offspring this behavior from the beginning!  I vigilantly killed every single yellow jacket found in those early weeks this year, before they could create there own colonies, and pretty much did not see any before mid August!  Once they began to show up again, they did not go directly to the advanced behavior of directly attacking the hives themselves but have taken more than a month to get to this behavior (while I was killing roughly 15 to 20 a day with my Binford 1.5P10 soapy water blaster)!  I’m now baiting again…  Its time to go out and check now the 3rd day after starting to bait.

I hope that anyone reading this can find similar success!  Sincerely, Ren Holmes (admin@warmbees.com)

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