I arrived home to a yellow jacket infestation. I’ve heard about the giant nests appearing this year, to the bafflement of entomologists, but never thought I’d be this close to one.
At first, they were just appearing in our basement laundry room–occasional, groggy fellows that we sucked up with the vacuum or dropped in the toilet with a tissue. We wondered how they were getting in, but didn’t stress over it too much.
Then one day, Len turned on the light in the basement only to have ten or so swarm the light (they are attracted to light–natural or artificial). Bravely, he turned on the vacuum and sucked them up mid-flight. It became a game, of sorts, and I quickly learned to do the same. With the sleight-of-hand required, and the threat of mortal injury, it was almost like a video game. Three more days elapsed.
Then, yesterday, I was trimming the front shrubs (manually, in a Mary-Scissors-Hands fashion since our electric trimmer recently bit the dust), getting closer and closer to the end of the bushes, back aching from the strain of using dull clippers, when I was distracted from my work by a small swarm of flying creatures. I had found the yellow jackets’ entrance to our house. Three holes in the molding between the first and second floors of my split-level home were their entry-exitway, and it was Grand Central Yellow Jacket Station, I must say. Busy, busy fellows, they were. In and out three and four at a time. Fortunately, they were merely menacing me with fly-bys, and not yet attacking. (I have since learned that when one yellow jacket stings you, it emits a pheromone that sends any nearby nest-mates into a similar stinging frenzy and they will attack anything that moves, favoring the head and face. And unlike bees, who can only sting once because they have a barbed stinger that stays in you, yellow jackets have a straight stinger and can happily sting again and again and again.)
Needless to say, I stopped trimming. Well, for a few minutes, anyway. I am a single-minded perfectionist who really likes to finish what I start, so I edged back in and got those few annoying stray tendrils that make a bush look like it has a bad haircut. The yellow jackets buzzed me, but didn’t strike. What’s the old saying? The Lord looks after idiots and small children? Fortunately I fall into the former category and so you will not be reading about me in the listing of next year’s Darwin Awards.
I called Len, told him about finding the opening and we agreed to buy some hornet and wasp killer and hit them at sunset when the most yellow jackets would have returned to the hive and also quieted down. At about 9:30, we did. The hole was small, though, and it was difficult to get the insecticide inside. Plus there were numerous holes. But we did our best and went to sleep hopeful.
This morning, there were at least 150 angry flying sting-meisters in my laundry room, which is also where the cats eat and use the litter box. Sorry kitties. We shut the door and checked the outside openings. Yup, they were still flying in and out. All we had succeeded in doing was a) angering them and b) confusing them so that even more of them came inside instead of outside.
I think my middle name should have been Pandora. Mary Pandora Akers. I can’t let potentially dangerous situations lie. And I always think I can handle whatever comes up. So, after three or four times of peering through a crack in the basement door and seeing that the numbers had risen to two or three hundred, I decided to go in and suck them up.
I know, I know. I’m the stupid girlfriend in horror movies who slowly descends the basement steps with all the illuminating power of a CANDLE after finding her boyfriend’s head in the toilet.
But I did at least cover my head with the hood of my hoodie, pull down my sleeves, and turn off the light so that the angriest yellow jackets went to the window. Then I entered quietly…
I turned on the vacuum and used the long hose to suck up the logy ones on the floor. So far so good. Emboldened by my success, I went after the ones attached to the light fixture. I would estimate that I managed to suck up about 75 or so before that one fellow that I missed. He got brushed off the light by the suction hose and dropped, falling onto my wrist, where my watch stopped him. He then proceded to do what yellow jackets do best. And then I did what humans do best: I screamed, flicked him off, turned off the vacuum, and fled the room before his pheromones could alert the remaining 250 hive-mates.
So now, as I type, I have a swollen, stinging wrist and a heightened sense of my own fallibility.
But in my defense, if I’d just had on gloves, I’d still be okay and the yellow jackets would be in the vacuum cleaner bag…where they belong.
I wonder if I have a pair of gloves from last winter’s stash lying around…