Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

October 2012

The Birds and the Bees

Now that I have your attention, I must confess this article would be more appropriately titled “The Wasps and the Hornets”. My apologies for any disappointment, but I’ve noticed a higher population than normal of wasps and hornets this year and thought this observation deserved some attention.
With the birds beginning to head south, our thoughts may begin to focus on gathering firewood, scouting a new hunting spot or just enjoying the autumn weather. While humans tend to find enjoyment in the fall of the year, I can tell you one species is NOT happy about this season: the Yellow jacket! Their bad attitude this time of year might a result of the fact that Yellow jackets are annual colonies where only the young, inseminated queens make it through winter and the former queen has died or is dying.

Most of us incorrectly identify Yellow jackets as “bees”. However, these aggravating and sometimes painful little buggers are actually classified as wasps. Since Yellow jackets do not produce honey, we tend to view these insects as more of a curse than a blessing, myself included. However “the experts” have very convincing arguments as to how Yellow jackets are important social hunters, which are predators of other pesky insects. Regardless, it is usually during our early fall activities and chores when we have run-ins with these critters and all their buddies.

Depending on the species, nests are found in existing underground cavities, nooks and crannies above ground or tucked among tangles of briars, vines and branches. Most notably, they are almost always burrowed under the tree I am cutting or area I need to run the string trimmer. Yellow jacket nests come in all shapes and sizes, but are always enclosed with a designated entry / exit. These nests are built from dead or decaying wood fiber that is chewed and converted into a paper-like material, and given their production this year, I’m thinking someone needs to impose a quota on them!

Yellow jackets tend to be aggressive and can even “mark” their target so they can have reinforcements pursue aggressors. This defense mechanism makes us, as outdoor enthusiasts and woods-workers, especially vulnerable to multiple stings when crossing their boundaries.

So how can we prepare for an accidental confrontation with these unfriendly neighbors? First of all, try to avoid leaving food or open pop containers out. This will attract Yellow jackets to your personal space. Second, make an attempt to spot any nests or preferred nesting areas before poking around. If you remember “The Felling 5” from your chainsaw safety class, this would fall under “Identifying Hazards”. (If you don’t remember your “Felling 5”, there’s a good chance you’ve forgotten a lot more and should contact FISTA to schedule a Chainsaw Safety Refresher class!)

So what if avoidance is too late? Well, for starters, stop streaking through the woods; you might scare someone. More importantly, remove restrictions like rings, for instance, if you get stung on the hand. It’s always good to have some sort of sting remedy in your first-aid kit (You do have one of those packed and ready, right?). There are several products on the market today that work quite well, but if you‘ve neglected to purchase anything, try to locate some nearby jewel weed. The juice from the jewel weed plant (Impatiens spp.) has aloe-like characteristics that can bring some relief to wasp stings as well as other skin irritations.

Of course, if you have an allergic reaction from a sting, get medical attention FAST! Having an over the counter antihistamine handy could buy a little more time, but getting help is essential. About 40 deaths are reported each year from bee stings. Some people develop sensitivity over time, so if you have experienced dizziness, difficulty breathing or hives from a previous sting, you may be one of the few who have a small window of time to contact help. If you know you already have an allergy to stings, have a fresh epi-pen close by and replace it once past the expiration date.

Until next month…Keep the sawdust flyin’ and may the wasps start dyin’!

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University.  Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments.  He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA.  For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or