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August and September are peak times for stinging insect aggression. Colonies have reached their maximum size and, especially among yellow jackets, they’re competing for carbohydrate-rich food sources (like sweet treats at your picnic) as well as protein (your burger) to nourish new reproductive queens and males.

These seven tips can help keep you out of their angry path:

  1. Wear shoes, not flip-flops, when doing yard work. Look carefully for ground nests before mowing or raking. You may see small holes in the ground with a few yellow jackets buzzing around.
  2. Avoid bright clothing and flowery perfume, which attracts wasps.
  3. Don’t frantically wave your arms if you’re buzzed by wasps. It just amps up their aggression. If they’re buzzing the ground nearby but not attacking, back away slowly. If they’re coming after you, though, you can outrun them – they fly at six to seven miles per hour (the average human sprinting speed is 12 to 15 mph). It’s best to get inside a building, of course, but if that’s not an option, dense vegetation can help deter a pursuit.
  4. Seal garbage cans and keep doors and windows screened.
  5. Preventatively spray nest-prone areas like porch eaves with a non-toxic mixture of water, dish soap and geranium, lemongrass, clove or peppermint oil. Wasps don’t like the smell.
  6. Call a pest professional to solve the problem quickly and safely if you already have a nest under your eaves or in your wall.
  7. Carry an epinephrine pen if you’ve had a bad reaction to a sting. Anaphylaxis is potentially fatal and is a “treat first, call for help later” medical emergency.

As anxiety-provoking as an encounter with stinging insects can be, it helps to remember they play an important role in the ecosystem. Honeybees, while not endangered thanks to managed beekeeping, are critical for agricultural pollination. Even ill-tempered wasps are beneficial because they prey on harmful insects.

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