MINNEAPOLIS — If you've been bombarded by yellow jackets or other wasps at a picnic recently, you're not alone.
Minnesotans from across the state have shared their wasp battles with KARE 11 on social media, with many asking why they seem even more prevalent – and aggressive – than ever.
We reached out to Marissa Schuh, an Integrated Pest Management Educator for the University of Minnesota Extension Service, to find out what might be going on.
Melissa Schuh: "Unlike bees, where the goal of the beehive is to have as many bees as possible survive the winter, wasps are different. Only the queen wasps survive the winter, all the workers die, so this time of year, their colonies are kind of falling apart. The workers are losing their home, they're losing their families and they are kind of out on their own foraging for food, so that's when they start to get kind of aggressive and we see them a lot more this time of year."
Kent Erdahl: "That sounds bleak."
Schuh: "Yeah, I always have a little empathy for the wasps. When they're coming after your food they're really going through something."
Erdahl: "The question is, are they actually worse this year? We've had some people speculating that maybe the drought has something to do with it?"
Schuh: "Potentially. We know wasps don't like it cold and they don't like it super wet, but it's really hard to say exactly. We don't trap wasps the way we might trap mosquitoes to track to their population, so it's hard to get those definitive answers."
Anecdotally, many KARE 11 viewers have offered testimonials and photo/video proof that their own wasp battles have been all-timers this summer. However, if numbers really are up, Schuh says the winter weather is likely the biggest culprit.
Schuh: "So last year in Minnesota we had a pretty mild winter. That might help those queen wasps, which are kind of hunkered down for the winter in the bark of trees, in piles of leaves, in the siding of some of our homes. The warmer it is, the more likely they are to ride out the cold weather."
But before we blame the weather or the wasps, Schuh says we also need to look inward.
Schuh: "So much of it might actually be our perception. You know, in the last two years, as we're all spending more and more time outside, How many restaurants have huge expanded patios? We're outside more, maybe we're going camping for the first time, so I think we're just in more places where we're going to interact with the wasps that have always been there."
Erdahl: "So we're infringing on their lives at an already difficult time?"
Schuh: "It goes both ways, yeah."
Regardless of how difficult the wasps might be, Schuh says they are still a valuable pollinators that often don't get the love they deserve.
"I think wasps do almost everything bees do, but they also do other things," she said. "There are so many wasps that are really good at tracking down, hunting, and killing pests. They have a lot of really unique things they do in eco-systems, so they're very important to the greater Minnesota landscape."