The skin covering our body serves many purposes such as regulating body temperature, serving as a barrier to many external factors (think sun, as an example) and regularly communicating with our brain about sensation.
While I like to think that skin is designed perfectly, there are times during the summer that I wonder why it fails. This thought process occurs mostly when I interact with certain insects.
Insects in the Hymenoptera order, which contain the likes of bees and wasps, are ramping up their population. I'm happy as long as they are happy but when they get mad, not even healthy skin can stop them.
The stinger - called a "sting" in the science world - of yellowjackets, hornets and wasps is shaped like a sharp needle. The needlelike apparatus repeatedly can penetrate the skin, unlike that of honeybees, which only can sting once.
While we tend to think the act of stinging is painful, it actually is the venom they inject into the skin that causes the majority of the pain.
Since our skin cannot prevent an insect from stinging us, homeowners can take several steps to minimize interactions.
Do not do your yard work like you are going out for a night on the town. While no one may be wearing high heels to weed the garden, you also should avoid wearing perfumes, colognes or scented body lotions because they can be attractive to stinging insects.
Eliminate or cover nearby food sources that they would forage on, such as soda cans and other picnic items.
Rethink some of your landscape plantings. Dropped fruit of flowering crabapples and fruit trees (peaches, apples, etc.) attract them in large numbers and serve up a late-season meal.
Probably the best strategy is just to avoid the nesting sites. Regularly walk around the landscape and inspect sites where they might build their nests.
Baldfaced hornets usually build their nests in trees or shrubbery but occasionally under the eaves of houses. The most common insect species to build under house eaves is the paper wasp.
Nests of both paper wasps and baldfaced hornets are easy to spot in a landscape, but good luck trying to spot a yellowjacket nest. They typically are located in the ground and sometimes in rock walls.
In my experience, I seem to only find a yellowjacket nest when I run over it with a lawnmower. That can be a very bad, painful experience.
If any of the nests are not in high-traffic areas, it is best to leave them alone as there is always a chance of getting stung during the removal process.
The insects do us good in the landscape as they pollinate and go after some of the "bad bugs."
Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Clinton County and may be reached at 570-726-0022.