In the age of environmental catastrophe, plenty of biblical-style and downright horrifying events are fast becoming the norm, from epic firestorms and massive flooding to freak storms that seemingly materialize out of nowhere.
But this latest freak development is truly the stuff of nightmares: massive yellow-jacket wasp “super nests” teeming with thousands of insects intent on stinging people throughout Alabama
The super nests can grow to the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System warns, and can house up to 15,000 wasps—about four times the size of your usual wasp nest.
The super nests have been found attached to cars, inside garages and sheds, in or on the ground, and on homes.
In a news release, Charles Ray, an entomologist with ACES, warned:
“These perennial nests may be several feet wide and have many thousands of workers, far more than an average nest.
We have found them attached to home exteriors and other places you might not expect to find yellow jackets.”
Local media have said 15 such super nests have been found this year so far. In 2006, researchers found about 90 similar-sized nests in the region.
If we are seeing them a month sooner than we did in 2006, I am very concerned that there will be a large number of them in the state.
The nests I have seen this year already have more than 10,000 workers and are expanding rapidly.”
Entomologists believe the culprit for the development of these massive wasp nests is the rapidly increasing temperature. In the past several years, colonies were maxing out at about 4,000 to 5,000 workers, which forced queen wasps to disperse and construct multiple nests that were much smaller.
But changing climate conditions are forcing yellow jacket nests to expand and encompass much greater numbers, mainly because the winter freeze is failing to kill off colonies and food is so plentiful—leading to the formation of super nests.
Ray also told the New York Times:
“The queens are the only ones who have an antifreeze compound in their blood.
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.”
Ray expects that this year, the number of perennial nests will easily match the 2006 total. He warns that homeowners should keep a safe distance from super nests and should contact a licensed pest control operator for help.
“While these giant nests often appear less aggressive than smaller colonies, it is important that people do not disturb the nests.”
In neighboring Georgia, homeowner Pennyleigh Hayes accidentally knocked a flower pot over onto a yellow jacket nest. The experience, which eventually ended with her calling an ambulance, will likely haunt her for years to come.
Hayes told told WSB:
“When I knocked one over, they came after me in swarms.
And what people don’t know is, they keep coming back. They don’t die.”
University of Georgia agricultural agent James Murphy, who is investigating the Alabama super nests, said:
“Yellow jackets will defend the nest to the death, fighting tooth and nail … And unlike bees, they can sting multiple times.”