When Debi Patterson stepped out her back door to take in drying clothes the other day, she saw what looked like bees and glanced upward.
“I almost fainted,” Patterson said Wednesday. “There was this huge nest.”
It turned out to be a colony of western yellow jackets.
Deborah Kendall from the biology department at Fort Lewis College said insects of the vespidae family, which includes yellow jackets, are found in abundance in La Plata County.
“We have tons of them, all kinds of species,” said Kendall, who has a dual degree in zoology and entomology. “It’s totally natural to find them here.”
Kendall said the nest will be abandoned come winter. All inhabitants will die except a fertilized queen that will find a protected place.
In the spring, the queen will emerge and build a new nest, Kendall said. She’ll chew woody material, which, mixed with starch in her saliva, will create the “paper” for construction.
The queen will stock the nest with paralyzed caterpillars or other insects and lay eggs on them. The insects will be the food source for a new generation of yellow jackets.
Dwayne Howell with General Pest Services gets about 30 calls a month in late summer to remove wasps, bees, hornets or yellow jackets.
“We’re seeing a lot more this year,” Howell said.
Kendall has seen fewer, however. She said drought conditions have reduced the number of vespidae this summer.
Whether the vespidae are abundant or fewer in number doesn’t matter to Patterson.
She likes their architectural skill.
“I’m not going to remove the nest,” Patterson said. “It’s too beautiful.”