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Bugged out, Yellow jackets, wasps hit peak numbers in F-M

When summer rolls around in the Red River Valley, no insect provokes more swats and swipes than the ever-menacing mosquito. But now that it's September and autumn is on the horizon, a new nuisance has invaded the Fargo-Moorhead airspace: the wasp...

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When summer rolls around in the Red River Valley, no insect provokes more swats and swipes than the ever-menacing mosquito.

But now that it's September and autumn is on the horizon, a new nuisance has invaded the Fargo-Moorhead airspace: the wasp.

Though many mistakenly call these yellow and black creatures bees, the pests buzzing around your park picnic are more than likely yellow jackets, a type of wasp.

Wasps and bees differ in that bees are rounder in shape, while wasps are more slender. Unlike bees, wasps have no hair, said Phillip Glogoza, North Dakota State University Extension Service entomologist.

This is the time of year when wasp or yellow jacket nests are at their largest, Glogoza said. Because their numbers are highest from mid-August to late September, you're likely to be bugged by them now more than ever.

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No one knows this more than Reberta Krauth of West Fargo. Krauth's neighborhood is buzzing with the insects. She says it's because of a nest attached to a home in the neighborhood.

Krauth, a day-care provider, said her kids haven't been able to go outside recently.

Two children have been stung; one is afraid to step outside.

Laura Charles, another West Fargo resident, said she's accustomed to getting stung because there are so many wasps. Charles is frustrated that there's nothing residents can do about neighborhood nests.

Charles previously lived in Arizona, where people could call a hotline to have bee and wasp nests removed. She wants something similar here.

But Myron Berglund, manager of the environmental health division of Fargo Cass Public Health, said these are property owner issues and there isn't much the city or county can do.

Still, Berglund said he gets a lot of calls from homeowners this time of year wondering how to get rid of the pests.

John Vigen, co-owner of Johnson's Pest Control in Fargo, said calls for wasp and bee hive removal started to pick up in the last week or so when hot weather crept back into the region.

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"The cool summer delayed things," Vigen said.

The professionals use a powerful powder substance to get rid of the bugs. The average bee or wasp removal costs from $45 to $50.

For brave homeowners, over-the-counter insecticide/repellent sprays can be used to combat wasps. Applications should be done at dusk or once it's dark outside, Berglund and Glogoza advise.

Worker wasps are out scavenging for food during the day and aren't inside their nests. If at dusk the wasps return to find their home has been drenched in spray, they may not want to go inside, Glogoza said.

Another reason to spray at night is that the wasps can't see well then, offering protection for whoever is spraying, he said.

Experts say you shouldn't shine a light on wasp nests found in dark, enclosed places. Light attracts and agitates wasps.

"Wasps and bees are most aggressive when they're protecting the hive," Glogoza said. "When they're near the nest, that's a tremendous resource that has to be protected."

The wasp's life cycle actually begins in the spring when the queen comes out of hibernation, lays her eggs and begins a nest.

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Once hatched, the young are cared for by the queen, who is responsible for bringing back food -- mostly gnawed-up insects. Her offspring eventually grow into mature female workers and raise new larvae while doing what they can to protect the nest and the queen.

Males develop from unfertilized eggs toward the end of summer for the purpose of mating.

Once the process is complete, the males die and the mated female finds a place to hide herself for the winter.

Bees and wasps aren't entirely bad. For example, they eat other insects, which helps keep the insect population from getting too unruly.

Still, anyone who's been stung by a bee or wasp may have a hard time realizing that benefit, especially since some people have severe allergic reactions.

Unlike the bee, a wasp can sting over and over again. In both cases, it's the females doing the dirty work.

So, if a wasp is stalking you or your soda, the best thing to do is ignore it, the experts say. Don't try to swing at it or squash it like you might a mosquito, especially when it's near its nest.

A dying yellow jacket releases an alarm pheromone, or smell, that lets other wasps know they should come to the rescue, according to several wasp Web sites.

Wasp and yellow jacket nests also should be left alone unless they're in a high-traffic area and need to be removed, Glogoza said.

Eventually the cold Red River Valley winter weather will settle in. At that point, the nest will die out and will no longer pose a problem -- at least until next summer when a new wave of wasps invade.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mary Jo Almquist at (701) 241-5531

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