Buzz off! BOOM! Exploding yellow jacket nests?
October 15, 2012 2:36 PM   Subscribe

Why are yellow jacket nests in my area (Great Smoky Mountains, East Tennessee) apparently exploding? I have found four nests within ten miles of each other that are completely, well, exploded. What's doing this? Pictures inside.

Last weekend and again today I found what appear to be the remains of yellow jacket nests. All four of these nests are adjacent to a well-maintained hiking trail. The nests are dead with no survivors to be seen. All that remains is a hole in the ground with earth mounded around it and fragments of papery comb spread in a 5- or 6-foot radius.

No tool (like a shovel) or paw/claw marks have been evident, though fall rains might have wiped them away. If this is an animal, it's a colossal badass and spoiling for a fight. I'd like to know what might have done this and why, since yellow jackets don't make honey. If it's a pest control product I'd like to know what it is because it beats the pants off the ol' gasoline-and-match method.

Shot of the nest (Sorry, blurry.)
Pieces of comb scattered around the crater
Closeup of the papery comb

With no survivors I'm not 100% sure these were yellow jacket nests but if they're not I don't know what else they could be. The only other ground-nesting bee-type-thing I know around here are digger bees, and these exploded nests don't look like digger bee colonies.
posted by workerant to Science & Nature (10 answers total)
could it be kids with m-80's?
posted by facetious at 3:04 PM on October 15, 2012

posted by Red Loop at 3:08 PM on October 15, 2012

posted by KokuRyu at 3:08 PM on October 15, 2012

Best answer: That is, black bears dig up the nests and eat the larvae, apparently inured (enough) to the stings.
posted by Red Loop at 3:09 PM on October 15, 2012

I saw a segment on either Nova or Nature about trying to eradicate the yellow jacket in Hawaii and the method used was to dig up the nest and capture the queen, so maybe that is what is going on?
posted by Sabby at 3:10 PM on October 15, 2012

Oh, I think skunks and racoons will sometimes do it also (maybe a few other mammals, too).
posted by Red Loop at 3:13 PM on October 15, 2012

The drought resulted in a population boom of yellow jackets. They thrive in dry weather since rain interferes with their paper nest building. It's a bountiful banquet for predators.
posted by tommasz at 3:29 PM on October 15, 2012

Yeah, skinks and badgers will do this too. Helpful hint: if you ever have a problem yellow jacket nest, go out at dusk when they're inactive and pour some honey on it. It'll help attract a skunk or badger. Probably wouldn't hurt the cha ces of a bear showing up either.
posted by cmoj at 3:44 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

And then you have to ask yourself: which would I rather have nearby, yellow jackets, or skunks and bears? Hmmm... Tough call.
posted by instamatic at 4:15 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: We don't have badgers here but we surely have a surfeit of bears, and they definitely meet the definition of "badass and spoiling for a fight." This is an exceptionally good year for the bears' Fall Shuffle so it didn't occur to me that they'd bother with such a painful meal as yellow jacket larvae. Thanks everybody!
posted by workerant at 4:59 PM on October 15, 2012

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