How to Capture Yellow Jackets (and Not Get Stung)

Georgia Tech Photo/Gary MeekFrom Live Science By Michael Goodisman, The Georgia Institute of Technology posted: 25 April 2008 ET Credit: Georgia Tech Photo/Gary Meek click to read more.     Dressed in a white beekeeper suit and full face mask, I pour a small amount of ether into the exit hole of a yellow jacket nest. Too much ether might kill many of the colony inhabitants, too little might allow them enough mobility to attack me, but just the right amount should send the yellow jackets into dreamland.     After a few minutes, my students and I quickly dig up the nest and place it and the yellow jackets into a sealed box. Unfortunately, some angry yellow jackets that weren’t affected by the ether always remain behind. As we work, these justifiably disturbed insects fly around menacingly and ram directly into our face shields in an attempt to drive us off. If there is even the slightest opening in our suits, they try to enter and sting us.     Collecting yellow jacket nests is always an adrenaline rush and one part of my job as an assistant professor in the School of Biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology. When metro Atlanta homeowners call me to remove a nest, I’m happy to help. I get yellow jacket colonies to study in my biology laboratory and the homeowner gets rid of a dangerous and irritating pest.     Social insects     These pests are just one type of social insect, a group that includes ants, social bees, social wasps and termites. These insects possess the most complex and developed societies of any animal species and engage in cooperative behaviors that allow them to complete extraordinary tasks. For example, termites are capable of working together to build nests many thousands of times their own size, and social wasps and bees engage in highly effective defense of their colonies using mass attacks.     So why study social insects? First, many social insects have direct impacts on humans. For instance, honeybees are critical pollinators of important crops, social wasps are key predators of insects, and many ants and termites are serious pests.     Second, understanding how social insects interact provides direct insight into how complex societies, such as those displayed by humans, operate. Such information can help us understand interactions within human families and between different human groups.     Third, social insects can help us learn how to effectively complete tasks. That is, we may learn how to efficiently organize ourselves by studying how social insect colonies accomplish their goals.

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