[guest post by Dana]
This is just Oh. My. God on steroids:
When James Barron went into his smokehouse in southern Alabama to grab an ax, he was alarmed to see a giant wasp nest about seven feet wide extending along the wall. It had been two months since he had last set foot inside.
“You don’t think about looking at the roof,” Mr. Barron said. “It’s just now really showed up, and it’s gigantic.”
Mr. Barron immediately retreated, and later sprayed hornet killer on the nest with his son. He said that just angered the yellow jackets, the highly aggressive wasps that live in such colonies. Mr. Barron was stung 11 times.
This is what experts refer to as a “super nest”:
Charles Ray, an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, drove to Mr. Barron’s home and confirmed the colony was a “super nest” — one that survives into a second year. He told Mr. Barron there were probably 15,000 to 18,000 wasps in the smokehouse.
This is the super nest in James Barron’s smokehouse:
It gets worse. Much worse:
That super nest was one of four in Alabama that Mr. Ray has confirmed this year. There are usually only one or two super nests spotted each year, in June and July, Mr. Ray said. In 2006, however, he recorded 90.
“I expect to approach that number this year,” Mr. Ray said.
“The queens are the only ones who have an antifreeze compound in their blood,” Mr. Ray said. “So normally, a surviving queen will have to start a colony from scratch in the spring. With our climate becoming warmer, there might be multiple surviving queens producing more than 20,000 eggs each.”
In which I discover that I share several traits with these yellow jackets:
Warmer winters contribute to these nests, Mr. Ray said. Most yellow jackets don’t survive the cold months because they freeze to death or have trouble finding food. They need a fair amount of sugar and carbohydrates, he said.
Alabama’s Cooperative Extension System issued a warning to the public about the anticipated proliferation of nests this year, and advised residents to always seek professional help rather than trying to tackle the super nest problem themselves. IOW, don’t try to shake it loose or knock it down.
Meanwhile, James Barron is having his smokehouse removed.
P.S. And for your information, some of these super nests become the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.
Here is a super nest on a front porch overhang:
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)
(photo via NYT)