Vanishing Giant Nests of Yellow-jackets

Posted on May 2, 2008  Comments (0)

Giant wasp nest

Vanishing Nests

Only a year ago, an Auburn University research entomologist encountered a phenomenon that beggared description – 16 super-sized yellow jacket nests throughout central and south Alabama.

By the end of the summer, the number of reported nests increased to more than 80. Auburn researcher Dr. Charles Ray speculates there probably were hundreds more undetected nests throughout the state. One nest collector spotted 10 of these nests in Lowndes County alone, while an Alabama Cooperative Extension System agent in Covington County reported as many as 25 nests.

Why were these gigantic nests considered such oddities? Because entomologists such as Ray could go an entire career without seeing scarcely one of these huge nests. This year, though, the nests seem to have vanished as quickly as dissipating clouds. Working closely with Alabama Extension agents and other monitors throughout the state, Ray hasn’t turned up so much as one nest this year.

“The summer of 2006 may prove to be a once in a lifetime opportunity,” say Ray, who considers the discovery of the nests one of the high points of his career. So what accounts for this once in a lifetime occurrence? Ray speculates it had to do with an unusually mild 2006 winter. “The mid-20s was about as cold as it got that year – only about a day or two of really cold weather,” says Ray, adding that this extremely mild winter probably established optimal conditions for the yellow jackets the following spring.

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