A few days ago, on a sunny Sunday, I decided to clean up the leaves that had accumulated under the junipers in the back garden. With no rainfall at all, decomposition was not happening, and the garden would look better with a lesser layer of debris.
Suddenly -- zzzzzzzzz boom boom boom OUCH! -- I found myself under attack. Surrounded by angry insects and already stung on cheek and head, I ran toward Mr. Mouse. As my distance from the place of attack increased, the attackers disappeared, except for two that were tangled in my hair. I asked Mr. Mouse to remove the last - I'd beat it with my gloved hands and it seemed mostly dead. "Yellowjacket," he proclaimed. And so it was. With all my good efforts to attract wildlife to the garden, I had made it too friendly a place for some less welcome visitors.
After some more garden work - in a different area of the garden - I went on the Internet in the evening to learn more. The UC Davis site on Yellowjackets and Other Social Wasps explained that yellowjackets and other wasps are beneficial "Most social wasps provide an extremely beneficial service by eliminating large numbers of other pest insects through predation and should be protected and encouraged to nest in areas of little human or animal activity." However, they also did warn that ground-nesting yellowjackets - in contrast to paperwasps - are aggressive and might sting even if unprovoked. With the prospect of a colony of several thousand wasps, I decided to follow the other advice on that website and get professional help.
I called Little David Pest Control, a local pest control company, and they were able to send someone over the next day. Alex, who seemed gentle and very knowledgeable about the wasps, had worked for the company for 27 years. After I'd shown him where the nest was, he donned his bee suit and I retreated to the safety of my home. He sprayed an insecticide, that, fortunately, seemed fairly targeted to wasps and also restricted to the area and took out the next. In about 15 minutes, he was finished and rang the doorbell to give me my paperwork and take my check. Of course I asked to see the nest, and he retrieved it from the truck for a photo. Clearly, more wasps would have been on their way: "Immature yellowjackets are white, grublike larvae that become white pupae. The pupae develop adult coloring just before they emerge as adult wasps."
I felt a little sad that I had to have the wasps killed, but knowing that it was them or me, I did not regret my decision too much. If I had 10 acres, I would have been happy to share a faraway corner. But 10000 square feet are not enough for 2 humans and a few thousand wasps.
A close-up of a few dead stragglers showed again how beautiful they are, small miracles in their own way. But remembering my throbbing cheek - the swelling took 2 days to disappear - made me glad that there's now more room for other insect eaters. Maybe some extra hummingbirds could consider building their nest?