Aside from the Middle East, few places are more volatile and dangerous than a yellow jacket’s nest.
This fall, they seem to be everywhere – and they hurt.
I was cutting firewood from a downed oak tree the other weekend when I was engulfed in angry yellow wasps.
They emerged from a cavity in the tree and – clearly – are not fond of the vibration of a chainsaw, and I was stung five times, including once above each ear.
As I ran inside yelping and shedding clothes, my wife told me to man up.
“For the love of God,” she said. “They’re just bee stings.”
After reading up on yellow jackets, I learned they inflict one of nature’s 10 most painful insect stings, ranking 2.0 on the Schmidt Pain Index devised by entomologist Justin Schmidt.
What does a 2.0 feel like?
“Hot and smoky, almost irreverent. Imagine W. C. Fields extinguishing a cigar on your tongue,” Schmidt wrote.
It wasn’t a week later when Louie, our bloodhound, came home with a dozen or more angry welts rising from the fur on his shoulders.
The next morning, we found a tiny nest entrance, hidden at the edge of a flower bed. It was dispatched with a liberal cloud of Sevin dust.
The big kahuna of yellow jacket nests, however, was just past our pond dam.
My wife accidentally discovered it while stepping over an old railroad tie.
As the wasps erupted from three separate holes, she was stung once on the top of her foot. She shrieked in pain, and the next morning, the swelling extended all the way up to her ankle.
As she marveled at how much it hurt, I (wisely) resisted the urge to say, “Honey, they’re just bee stings.”
A nest this size wasn’t suitable for a simple Sevin assault. We needed a bunker buster.
After conducting some research and enlisting my pal Mike Floyd as an accomplice, we armed ourselves with two cans each of instant-death wasp eradicator foam.
We waited til late at night and launched a coordinated attack.
We sprayed and wasps buzzed out of all three holes as fast as you could imagine.
We emptied our first two cans, then two more – and then we ran for home.
The next day, the railroad tie was littered with dead wasps and the paper nest edges under the wood were covered as well.
But they were all dead – and no one got stung.
You might wonder by now, what is the MOST painful sting, according to Schmidt.
According to the literature, it is the Bullet Ant, ranking a 4.0-plus. It’s sting has been compared to being shot, hence its name.
The description: “pure, intense, brilliant pain. Like fire-walking over flaming charcoal with a 3-inch rusty nail grinding into your heel.”
Fortunately for us, they are found in Nicaragua and nearby regions – not here in Georgia.
That’s a good thing. Yellow jackets are painful enough for me.
TROUT RELEASE: The grand experiment to explore the Augusta Canal’s suitability as trout habitat is nearing an end.
Davidson Fine Arts School science teacher Carl Hammond-Beyer and his students placed about 1,000 tiny rainbow trout fry in submerged containers last June to see if they can survive the warmer summer temperatures and the low oxygen levels that can accompany them.
As it turns out, the larger the fish grew, the more they ate one another for food.
There was also mortality due to environmental conditions in the water.
After more than three months, however, the experiment yielded 50 to 60 rainbow trout that not only survived in a submerged barrel in the Augusta Canal, but grew to become more than six inches long.
The experiment might be repeated this winter, possibly using brown trout, which are believed to have a better adaptability to habitat with borderline trout conditions.
Also on the agenda is a plan for Hammond-Beyer’s students to design a better holding tank to accommodate the next group of fish.
For that project, he received a $500 “innovation grant” from Georgia Tech.
FOR THE BIRDS: Our region is famous for lots of things, but one of the best kept secrets is our diversity of bird life.
We have the National Wild Turkey Federation just up the road in Edgefield, the Silver Bluff Audubon Center and Sanctuary near Jackson and – just minutes from downtown – the Merry Brickyard ponds and Phinizy Swamp Nature Park that routinely lure scores of waterfowl species.
Next week, Aiken will host the international conference of the North American Bluebird Society, which is expected to attract 150 or more visitors from across the U.S. and Canada.
Like the wild turkey and other birds that almost vanished, bluebirds declined from the 1920s to the 1970s due to habitat loss hastened by development and agricultural changes.
Today, society members continue to rebuild the bluebird population by providing nest boxes in the bluebirds’ preferred habitat, which includes our area.
Records show that in 2002 only 22 bluebirds fledged on trails now monitored by the South Carolina Bluebird Society.
In 2012, a total of 1,298 bluebirds fledged in the Aiken area alone.