I Got Attacked by Tracker Jackers!
I was minding my own business. Okay, I know that nobody believes that. I was doing some overdue maintenance in my apiary. An apiary is what you call the place where you keep your bee hives. Yes, I have bee hives. But that is a story for another day.
It was about 7am last Saturday morning. It was too early to open my hives, so I was planning to do some long overdue cleanup of a dead bee hive. The queen died shortly after we installed the hive. We installed a new queen, but it’s only about a 50/50 chance that will work. The queen actually took, but the hive didn’t have enough young workers to build out comb for the queen to lay eggs in or enough hive bees to feed and care for young. We fed them and babied them for a couple of months, but they finally all died off. The hive has been sitting out in my apiary needing to be cleaned out and readied for a new hive next spring. I finally had the time to do it last Saturday.
Because all the bees were dead, I didn’t put on any protective gear. I didn’t have on a bee suit, a veil, or gloves. I was wearing striped yoga tights and a black t-shirt and sneakers. This is something I would NEVER wear to work with my bees. Bees are more aggressive with dark colors (because bears and other predators are generally brown or black). It is best practice to wear white when visiting your bees. But, again, I wasn’t visiting my bees. I was just going to pick up an empty box and move it inside to clean it out.
I walked out to my apiary and watched my two very healthy hives in action for about 15 minutes. It is actually very interesting and peaceful to watch the bees coming and going from their hive. And, so long as you don’t stand in the “bee line” (the path they take between their hive and their source of food or water), you aren’t in any danger of having even a minor interaction with a bee.
I finally couldn’t avoid my nasty task any longer and went over to collect my empty hive. Okay, I know you all see the foreshadowing here and that you’re ready for some kind of amazing resurrection of my hive. Just to be sure the hive was really and truly empty, I very carefully opened the top cover. There is a plexiglass inner cover underneath that allows you to look into your hive. There was absolutely no activity. None. But, just to be absolutely certain, I opened the inner cover and pulled up a frame just to be sure. I definitely didn’t want to bring a bunch of bees into my kitchen. Nothing. Not one bee. They were all gone. I am a little sad that we lost this hive. We spent a lot of time nurturing it and trying to save it. But, we couldn’t. I replaced the frame, the inner cover, and the outer cover. I very gently lifted up my hive. And, a couple thousand yellow jackets came flying out of the cinderblocks that my hive was sitting on. You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. A typical nest can have up to 15,000 yellow jackets in it.
I have been bee keeping since February. I absolutely love it. I find the bees gentle and docile and very Zen to work with. I typically wear a veil, but I don’t wear a full bee suit or gloves unless I’m doing something that is likely to upset the bees (like harvesting honey). So, my first reaction to being swarmed by yellow jackets was to calm down, slow down, gently put the hive down, and stand still. Guess what? Yellow jackets and bees are very, very different. Those yellow jackets started stinging me and it immediately got my attention. Fortunately, I panicked and ran to the house. When I looked it up later, I learned “yellow jackets will aggressively defend their nest from intruders. They’re easily provoked and will attack in force, chasing the perceived threat for long distances. What’s worse, each yellow jacket can sting multiple times. When they sting, they leave behind a chemical that marks you as the enemy, inciting other yellow jackets to attack. If you’re stung by a yellow jacket, run!”
My apiary isn’t close to the house (by design). So, I had to run past my outbuilding, across the driveway, past my propane tank, past my chicken coop, and through the garage to get into the house. I can tell you I wasn’t thinking clearly when I got into my kitchen. All I could think was how bad the stings on my legs hurt and that I knew I had to get the stingers out. However, that’s the protocol for what to do if you’re stung by a bee, not a wasp, hornet, or yellow jacket. Again, I wasn’t thinking clearly. So, I kicked off my shoes and ripped off my pants. At this point, I realized that there were three yellow jackets in my kitchen with me. They chased me all the way into my house!!! So, I grabbed my nearest weapon—a kitchen towel. Fortunately, I have been practicing on house flies lately and have gotten quite good. I was also pretty furious and looking for vengeance. I will tell you that I’m happy that my 21-year-old son and our house guests were all asleep and didn’t come stumbling into the kitchen to find me running around the kitchen without pants on, cursing like a sailor, and swinging a kitchen towel around. It only took me about 3 minutes to hunt down and kill the f***ing tracker jackers that chased me into the kitchen.
I caught my breath, put on some pants, and went out to find my husband who was peacefully pulling up weeds in the garden. I said, “Didn’t you hear me screaming, swearing, and creating a terrible ruckus?” He said, “What?” Lol. In his defense, when I told him that there was a yellow jacket nest in my apiary, he got up and started marching over there to… I don’t know what. I stopped him before he got first-hand experience with my yellow jackets and we went and bought some wasp and hornet killer, which seemed so much more reasonable than the flame thrower I was fantasizing about. We came back, put on full bee suits, gloves, and knee-high boots and went armed with two cans of wasp killer each. Lol. As it turns out, that was completely overkill. It was a bit anticlimactic how safe and easy it was to drop the equivalent of a nuclear bomb on that yellow jacket nest when we were all geared up and had the right equipment.
I am fine. As it turns out, I didn’t have a terrible reaction to the multiple yellow jacket stings. I got Benadryl on them immediately. They hurt terribly for a couple of hours. They were red and a little itchy for a couple of days. But it wasn’t too bad. I’m still feeling hateful and violent toward yellow jackets and wasps. And, I’ve added a flame thrower to my Christmas list.