Sunday, August 13, 2000

Insect numbers increase

Mild winters lead to more colonies

By Lew Moores
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Rich Ahearn noticed it about a week ago, a gray sphere hanging just about 6 feet off the ground in his backyard poplar tree.

        A hole near the base of this nest was alive with flight, bald-faced hornets leaving and entering the nest here in a quiet Wyoming neighborhood.

        “They haven't actually bothered me yet,” Mr. Ahearn said Saturday as he stood a good 50 feet away. “But I'm concerned about the potential. I have two teen-age girls who are out here running around, kicking around a soccer ball.”

        So he called for help. Diane Havey, a service technician for Scherzinger, a pest control company, stood off to the side, rubber gloves protecting her hands, a 7-foot dust stick in hand, ready to do combat.

        Bald-faced hornets are here and apparently in greater numbers.

        Since May, Ms. Havey has eliminated 27 bald-faced hornet nests from residential areas, and that's just one species of stinging insect.

        It doesn't include yellow jacket nests or the combs of paper wasps that seem to materialize from the eaves of homes.

        And those numbers are going to grow with late summer and early fall as colonies grow in size, and there are literally more mouths to feed in a colony.

        Children's Hospital Medical Center has just issued a tip sheet called “'Tis the Season to be Stung,” which deals with the prevention and treatment of stinging insects.

        Bery Pannkuk, technical director for Scherzinger, says the numbers are up. His company is already doing about 20 of these jobs a day, wiping out annoying and dangerous nests, eliminating them from trees or as they hang from decks or are hidden below ground.

        Mr. Pannkuk said that's about 25 percent more than they were doing last year at this time, which was even busier than the year before.

        Mild winters over the past several years have meant that queens have been able to overwinter and survive. More surviving queens means more colonies in the spring and summer.

        “I'm seeing more wasps earlier in the year. We're not seeing the winter kills like we used to see,” said Dr. Gene Kritsky, a biologist and expert on insects at the College of Mount St. Joseph.

        The stings from bees and wasps will cause between 12 to 16 human deaths a year in this country, Dr. Kritsky said.

        But entomologists and even the pest control experts will explain that unless these insects pose a threat to human populations, they should be left alone. They are beneficial scavengers that clean up after the dead and rotting.

        “Some wasps are very important in keeping down other insect populations,” Dr. Kritsky said. “Bees pollinate. It's not like they're out there to wipe us out.”


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