If you’re out taking a walk in Alabama this summer and you hear a strange droning hum, we suggest you quickly head in the other direction.
Hoards of yellow jacket wasps are building super-sized nests the size of Volkswagen Beetles across southern Alabama.
While the sight of one or two “super nests” is not completely unheard of, researchers are expecting this summer to beat all known records. The last time this happened in Alabama was in 2006 when at least 90 huge nests were documented. The super nests seem to be emerging months earlier this time around, indicating the state is on track to become filled with even more oversized nests than previous years.
“If we are seeing them a month sooner than we did in 2006, I am very concerned that there will be a large number of them in the state. The nests I have seen this year already have more than 10,000 workers and are expanding rapidly," Charles Ray, an entomologist working with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said in a statement.
The culprit is thought to be this year’s mild winter and abundant food supply, which is allowing colonies to survive and enter spring with much larger numbers. Entomologists have also noticed that many of the monster nests have multiple queens, suggesting the yellow jackets missed out on the normal trigger that sparks their dispersal event.
“These perennial nests may be several feet wide and have many thousands of workers, far more than an average nest," he continues.
“The most workers I have counted in a perennial nest is about 15,000 or about 3 to 4 times more than a normal nest,” added Ray. “However, one nest in South Carolina was documented with more 250,000 workers.”
Yellow jackets are highly aggressive wasps with a sting that pack a nasty punch. In fact, they are responsible for almost all of the stinging deaths in the US, primarily due to people being allergic to their venom.
It typically takes over 1,000 stings to kill an adult, however, due to their aggressive nature, this is a very real risk. As just one of many examples, a 47-year-old Florida man was killed in 2014 after he was stung hundreds of times by yellow jackets.
So, needless to say, the super nests should be treated with extreme caution. The nests should only be dealt with by licensed pest control professionals, although Ray believes some could be too large for some operators to tackle.
“First and foremost, do not disturb the nest,” Ray said.