Yellow Jackets Attack: The Sting of the Wild

It seems like every park Tom and I work at has a different kind of stinging or biting insect.  In Death Valley the buffalo gnats stung us.  In Minnesota the mosquitoes and biting black flies pestered us.  At Fort Frederica the sand gnats tormented us.  We thought we had escaped all these stinging and biting insects here at San Juan National Historical Park.  Until the yellow jackets started attacking us in September.

Yellow jackets are a particular kind of wasp that build their nest in the ground.  In September, the nests are overflowing and the yellow jackets are nearing the end of their lives.  I guess this makes them grumpy because they become much more aggressive.  The same yellow jackets that let us gently shoo them out of the Visitors Center are now landing on us and stinging as soon as they land.

I used to think that if you didn’t bother bugs, they wouldn’t bother you, but now I know better.  Even though we are not doing anything to the yellow jackets, they are still stinging.  And, because they don’t lose their stingers, they keep biting until you kill them.

I have had several stings from the yellow jackets in the last two weeks.  The worst was a sting between my fingers when I was reading on Wednesday.  The sting hurts, but the most annoying part is the itch that stays with the sting for at least a week.  My hand swelled up until I couldn’t bend the two fingers.  This didn’t bother me as much as the constant itching.

Tom had a yellow jacket fly up his pants leg on Thursday.  He got stung at least five times before he could get to the restroom and take his pants off.  The stings hurt for a while, but the worst part is the itching that makes him want to scratch like crazy.

Trying to be helpful, Tom shared with me the Schmidt Sting Pain Index.  Entomologist Justin Schmidt sought out all kinds of insects and let himself be stung and bit.  Then he rated the pain on a 1 to 4 scale with 1 being the least and 4 being the most.  He also timed the duration of the pain of the sting or bite.  You can read all about it in his book, “The Sting of the Wild.”  According to Schmidt a yellow jacket sting is only a 2 on the pain scale.  Unfortunately Schmidt didn’t time how long the bites would itch.

Hopefully the colder weather will kill off the yellow jackets soon.  Until it does, I will be swatting them before they can sting me.