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The Buzz on a Bumper Crop of Yellow Jackets

Posted by Loren Drummond at Aug 29, 2013 12:55 PM |
Why there have been so many wasps this year, the latest trails to watch out for wasps, and tips to keep from getting stung.
The Buzz on a Bumper Crop of Yellow Jackets

A trailside wasp nest built around a fern photographed by geezerhiker on Maple Pass in 2010.

We've heard from a number of trip reporters, Hike-a-Thoners and hikers on Facebook and Twitter that they've been running into yellow jackets (a type of predatory wasp) and hornets. Or rather, yellow jackets have been running into them, stinger-side first. (See the list of recent encounters below.)

The Department of Natural Resources posed some possible explanations on their blog today:

"This year seems to be a banner year for yellow jackets, bald faced hornets, and similar stinging insects. It may be related to the cool, spring conditions that boosted the population of aphids, a popular food source for yellow jackets. Aphids are the full meal deal. They are “meat” to predatory yellow jackets. When aphids suck plant juices, they take in sugary fluids, but not much protein. They keep sucking to obtain more protein, excreting extra, unneeded sugary fluids as droplets that are commonly called “honeydew.” Yellow jackets collect the honeydew droplets from the rear ends of the aphids themselves. Some collect the sticky, sugary liquid or dried sugars from other surfaces like stems, leaves, or parked cars beneath aphid-infested trees. It may have been the honeydew droplets in the spring that are allowing yellow jackets to thrive now."

So there you have it.

Tips for avoiding hornets or yellow jacket stings

  • Sensitive to stings? Take extra precautions. Most importantly, if you have an allergy or are highly senstive to stings, ask your doctor about adding a sting emergency kit to your first aid kit. This might contain an EpiPen (syringes with premeasured doses of aqueous epinephrine for injection) antihistamine tablets, and frequently an inhaler, which may also contain epinephrine. Also, tell your fellow hikers where you keep the emergency kit in your pack before you start hiking.
  • Hike when (and where) it's cooler. Try hiking earlier in the day, when cool temperatures keep stinging insects in their nests. And once nighttime temperatures drop into the 30s, the wasp activity will die down.
  • Keep dogs on leash. It's the best way to keep curious pups from nosing up a whole heap of stinging trouble.
  • Avoid strong scents. The WSU Cooperative Extension suggests not wearing perfumes, hair sprays, or other strong scents when in areas with abundant paper wasps and yellowjackets.
  • Be smart about the color of your shirt. When you pass known nests, consider covering up your brightly colored clothing, particularly yellow, orange and red. It is hunting season, though, so if you're hiking on land where hunting is permitted, you'll be safer keeping your orange on.
  • Don't give them an opening. If you think you might encounter wasps, they'll likely be coming from the ground up. To avoid them getting trapped in your pants, tuck your pants in or wear gaiters.
  • Know your cranky hornet from your harmless bumblebee. And remember, most stinging insets, while annoying, are considered beneficial to the environment. WSU entomogist Richard Zack recently told KPLU:  "They're actually beneficial. They're out there, picking up caterpillars, aphids, beetles and flies. So they're good predatory insects."

If you get stung, the WSU Cooperative Extension says that applying an antihistamine ointment or take one orally (like Benedryl) may reduce the effects of the sting.

Where hikers have reported being stung

For the remainder of this season, be careful on these spots on trail, and report any stinging insects you run into in a trip report.

  • Blue Canoe was stung on the Rainy Lake Trail "About 3/4 of the way to the lake, just before crossing the last creek, we had a run-in with a bunch of mean, angry hornets. We were each stung multiple times. Hiking out the next day, we met two day-hikers who also were stung at the same place. Use extreme caution for the rest of the summer on this trail, and avoid this hike entirely if you are allergic to bee stings."
  • a3, hikenwineguy and our own Kindra Ramos reported a hornets nest on the Park Butte Trail. hikenwineguy says it's "about halfway through the switchbacks"
  • Eagle Lake has a hornets nest "located on the first 1/3rd of the trail" says Timberline244
  • Carol T. reported a yellow jacket nest "About 1 mile in" to Huckleberry Mountain.
  • One of our lead Hike-a-Thoners, Gwen Tollefson, was stung 11 times on a hike to Tunnel Creek in August.
  • Another Hike-a-Thoner (and running coach Holly Weiler) reports a wasp nest on the summit of Iller Creek.
  • Cruizenbye reports (and marked with orange tape) a nest in the middle of the trail at Rampart Lakes on the Rocky Run trail just before the junction to Laura Lake.

Some of the best trails of the year can be hiked right now, though, so don't let the fear of a few little bug-gers keep you at home. Just watch your step.

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Bee stings

Posted by jbk51691 at Aug 29, 2013 04:40 PM
We were hiking around the backside of Hidden Lake near Lake Wenatchee and my husband was stung about 3 times by some kind of ground nest of wasps/hornets. Needless to say we hurried ourselves out of their area. His hand swelled up and he soaked it into the cold creek at the end of the hike.

Nests on Tonga Ridge

Posted by Brighidoon at Aug 30, 2013 11:01 PM
There's also a couple of wasps nests on Tonga Ridge. Crew Chief Alex Ray flagged them, so when you head out for your berry picking, keep an eye out for the flagging.

Also, just to be clear, the yellow jackets I encountered on Tunnel Creek were on the south side of the ridge (up from the Dosewallips) around the 900' elevation mark. This Tunnel Creek trail is in the Buckhorn Wilderness.

Bees on Tunnel Creek Trail

Posted by Bob at Aug 31, 2013 05:30 PM
About 1/10th of a mile above the sign in area on the Tunnel Creek Trail we ran into an aggressive swarm of bees on our way back to the parking area. Unprovoked, they attacked everyone in our group sending one person to the ER with multiple stings.

aggressive yellow jacket encounters

Posted by nealbob at Aug 31, 2013 09:57 PM
Each of us from a group of three was bitten in quick succession on the perry creek trail approximately half way up the switchbacks through the woods leading to the meadows. Also, my dog was bitten on the lip while eating her food on the pilot ridge trail when you first break out of woods and are about to drop back down.

Snow Lake (Snoqualmie) Yellow Yackets

Posted by Hiker Dad at Sep 01, 2013 10:35 PM
Watch out for angry yellow jackets on this trail. Got stung on the way down around 11 AM.

Yellowjackets

Posted by Voxxjin at Sep 02, 2013 10:26 PM
I was hiking up the Angry Mountain trail (#90) and while crossing one of the many blowdowns, I knocked some bark off. Seems it was the front door to a yellowjacket nest. Got stung 5-6 times. I don't blame them but I wish they would have giving me a little more time to get a head start running.

Yellow Jackets on Hike to Gothic Basin

Posted by in2wtr at Sep 03, 2013 08:42 AM
I saw two yellow jacket nests - both hanging from trees not far off the trail. The first was on the river side of the trail during the first mile on the old Monte Cristo Road. Second was on the left side of the trail just after turning off on the "Weden Creek" trail.

The best remedy if you do get stung

Posted by Landrew at Sep 12, 2013 09:32 PM
I'm surprised nobody mentioned the best remedy for bee stings (as well as other insect bites) It's a simple suction device which extracts the venom: the brand I bought is Sawyer - you can get it at REI for under $20. With bee stings you need to use it within a couple minutes of being stung for it to be effective. For mosquito bites, the suction extractor works even if you use it a day or two later. The extractor I have is also designed to treat snake bites.

As for the other suggestions here: unless you have severe reactions to bee stings, the EpiPen seems like an extreme remedy; and as for topical ointments... they don't work because the venom remains in your body. As for antihistamine tablets, I can't imagine it would be safe hiking or driving after the sleepiness effects kick in.

Sting treatments

Posted by Wallflower at Sep 12, 2013 09:31 PM
Thanks Landrew for the note on the device. Here is a link.http://www.moontrail.com/[…]/venom_extractor.html
I have been stung this summer multiple times! The second attack had me running. So i was trying to figure out the best treatment for quick relief and fast recovery. I tried icing the second time. Running to a nearby home to beg for it, I knew the owner so felt ok with the request. it really helped. I took a Benadryl (25mg) and used a hydrocortisone cream.still swelled up the next day and itched for several days but healed faster than the first time. Good luck and be careful! I am definitely going to buy one of these 'suckers'!

Sting treatments

Posted by Wallflower at Sep 12, 2013 09:32 PM
Thanks Landrew for the note on the device. Here is a link.http://www.moontrail.com/[…]/venom_extractor.html
I have been stung this summer multiple times! The second attack had me running. So i was trying to figure out the best treatment for quick relief and fast recovery. I tried icing the second time. Running to a nearby home to beg for it, I knew the owner so felt ok with the request. it really helped. I took a Benadryl (25mg) and used a hydrocortisone cream.still swelled up the next day and itched for several days but healed faster than the first time. Good luck and be careful! I am definitely going to buy one of these 'suckers'!

Nest at Snow Lake, Alpental

Posted by Brendinni at Sep 15, 2013 01:58 AM
About 1-150 yards north and across the tiny creek by the foundation of the shelter is a yellow jackets nest. There is a side trail that cuts through a very small grove of trees to a very large burned out stump. Directly behind that is a tree that is partially rotted and in that broken bit is a hornets nest. Neither I nor my hiking partner got stung but it is in a high travel pathway back to main trail from lake.

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