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7-Minute Read

We’ve all heard the stories right? Of that poor sot who was out mowing the lawn and accidentally ran over a hidden wasp nest… Well, finally I am that poor sot.

I’ve certainly heard of, and talked to, many folks who have had this unfortunate event happen to them. If you’ve got a lawn, it has to be mowed (even if you don’t do it yourself – someone has to), so it could happen. I never really thought it would happen to me though. Even after our neighbors found a ground nest last year in our yard and pointed it out to me (which I promptly removed so no one would get hurt)– I never really worried about running over a nest. Well, now I have reason to worry.

Last weekend I finally made time to start mowing the lawn again. I have a tendency to procrastinate until its almost (or is) too long for my poor little mower to handle. Imagine three acres of grass, one self-propelled walk behind mower, and a silly hardheaded girl who thought it wouldn’t be that much grass to mow. Yeah, that’s me. Well, like I said, I was finally working on mowing the lawn. I was about halfway through, or thereabouts, my six hour mowing marathon, when IT happened. I ran over my first ground wasp nest.

Yellow Jacket face

At first I didn’t know what I had done. I felt a sting or bite from something on my ankle. As I usually mow in my flip-flops (warning note – this is NOT the most safe idea), I do periodically have things bite or sting me (sometimes its even a thistle plant that sprung back if the mower didn’t hit it just right). So my first reaction when I felt the sting on my ankle was to quickly smack it. That’s when I saw it was a wasp. I only had a moment to register that “that’s odd, I don’t usually have wasps sting me” when I felt another pain on my knee. Quickly followed by a buzzing sound… S*#%😱🤬🤬 It dawned on me what I had done. I finally started to flee, tried to drag the mower with me, heard buzzing near my ears… Abandoned the mower to fend for itself, and started flailing my arms around my head as I ran toward the house. My dog, realizing something was wrong (she typically supervises me while I mow) ran after me.

The wasps followed me all the way back to the house! I couldn’t believe it. It’s at least 100 feet from where I abandoned the mower to the porch door. I thought I had reached safety when I finally got in and closed the door. No such luck. There was still one clinging to my side, which managed to sting me before I got it off and smashed it. Then my sweet defender came to my aid. My dog saw another one on the curtain door that made it inside with us that I hadn’t seen. She promptly tried to kill it for me (by eating it) and unfortunately got a mouth full of stinger. I got her to spit it out and smashed it with my flip-flop. Thankfully neither of us are allergic, but they sure do hurt. A lot.

Distance between wasp nest and my house

Believe it or not, this wasn’t quite the end. After all the excitement, the throbbing from the stings I received, and just generally being sweaty and gross from mowing in the heat, I jumped in the shower. The second I got out – there was another one! I guess it must have been hiding on my clothes somewhere. Not sure how I managed to disrobe and not get another sting, but that’s the only thing I can figure for how it got into the bathroom with me. After dispatching that one, I thoroughly shook out my clothes to make sure I hadn’t missed any others.

Now I could finally take a close (and safe) look at what had attacked me. Apparently, I was the unlucky discoverer of an Eastern Yellow Jacket, Vespula maculifrons, nest. Vespula maculifrons belongs to the wasp family Vespidae, which is full of a wide variety of often colorful stinging wasps. This is one of the most common species of yellow jacket (yes, there are actually many different species of yellow jacket) in eastern North America. They almost always nest underground, or at least near the ground, and form large colonies to defend the young developing in the nest underground. They are also hunters, and kill many other smaller, softer bodied arthropods (aka, free garden pest control), which is why I normally don’t mind having them around even if they occasionally come uninvited to a picnic. Not this time though. This nest is going to have to go.

The next day, I very carefully went back out to look for the nest and mark it. I was looking for holes or depressions that may lead to underground tunnels in the vicinity of where I left the mower. We have a have quite a lot of moles in the area that leave plenty of abandoned tunnels for the wasps to choose from (why dig a whole tunnel, when an already abandoned one will do?). I saw one possible candidate and stuck a flag next to it – hard to tell if it’s a snake hole (lots of those here too) or a wasp nest entrance… I kept looking to see if there are other candidates… Saw another potential hole a little further up… Was about to stick a flag next to it – then I saw movement nearby. It’s a wasp. I paused. It flew to the second hole and went in. Yep, that’s the one. I carefully inched closer and stuck the flag next to it. Then backed away. Good thing I did too, because they did NOT like me putting a flag there. Next thing I know, I see another one go in the hole, then a whole slew of them started coming out. They started quickly flying in circles around their nest, expanding outward looking for what had disturbed their nest. I backed up even more. Super aggressive colony. My dog Sunday came over to see what I was so interested in. I told her to keep over by me… not far enough. Sunday got a another sting 😢 We fled back to the house. She’s ok, but of course didn’t like getting stung.

Yellow Jacket attacking twist tie (in the bathroom!)

Looking at where the nest is located and where my mower made it – I apparently ran in the wrong direction after my first sting. My mower tracks went a bit beyond the nest, so when I tried to run away, I actually crossed back over where the nest was. Yeah, not the best, but I didn’t know where they had come from at the time. Now that I’ve found and marked the nest, I plan on cooking up a bunch of mint oil to dump down their nest at night. Hunting wasps usually only come out during the day, so the safest time to try to get rid of a wasp nest is at night. We have a whole bunch of mint in the garden and mint oil with boiling water worked really well on last year’s ground nest (that one had to go too since it was in the walkway even though no one got stung).

Needless to say, I do NOT recommend mowing over a Yellow Jacket nest - if you can avoid it! They are some real mean Mama Jamas. I really hope I won’t have another one of thee stories to tell next year!

The method I used for removing the wasp nest can be found in my Mint Oil story here.

Yellow Jacket after I mostly smashed it

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Written by an entomologist for the enjoyment of all... The goal is to post something new every Wednesday and on the weekends, so stay tuned!