A potentially deadly yellow jacket population boom is predicted in Alabama, with colonies of up to 15,000 stinging insects expected this summer, according to a warning posted by the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.
Experts say examples of the massive colonies -- which can grow to “the size of a Volkswagen Beetle” -- have already been found this summer in two locations, and a third is under investigation. The exact sites were not disclosed.
“It’s called a perennial yellow jacket nest,” extension service officials said in a release. “Entomologists believe that milder winters combined with an abundant food supply allow some colonies to survive and enter spring with much larger numbers... Researchers have documented that these massive colonies often have multiple queens.”
The phenomenon happened before in Alabama, back in 2006, when “more than 90 of these supernests” were discovered in multiple counties across the state, extension officials said.
One of those nests crawled up the entire height of homes, while another filled an abandoned car, according to photos released by the extension service.
Charles Ray, an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said the large colonies found this year developed several weeks earlier than in 2006, according to a release.
“I am very concerned that there will be a large number of them in the state,” Ray said in the release. “The nests I have seen this year already have more than 10,000 workers and are expanding rapidly.”
By contrast, a typical nest would host only 4,000 to 5,000 workers, according to the extension system.
Experts issued the June 21 alert in hopes of potentially saving the lives of people who might try to remove a nest.
“Unlike bees, which only sting once, yellow jackets have the ability to sting you multiple times,” and the venom injected in the skin can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction, according to healthline.com. Symptoms of a reaction can include trouble breathing, swallowing and loss of consciousness, says the site.
“First and foremost, do not disturb the nest,” Ray advised in the post. “While these giant nests often appear less aggressive than smaller colonies, it is important that people do not disturb the nests.”
Instead, he advises contacting “licensed commercial pest control operators” about removing the large colony.