One of the great things about living in New York State in the summer and fall is the availability of numerous festivals. It seems like every area has several each weekend. Hard to choose! In addition to sudden downpours, yellowjacket wasps are one of the consistent nemeses of festival attendees. This is especially true in late summer and early autumn when the wasps are present in seasonally high numbers and are attracted to sweets and other food of the ubiquitous concession stands.
Although not eliminated, the risks associated with yellowjackets can be reduced. Festival managers and vendors need to pay particular attention to reducing the vulnerability of drinks, food, and waste. Trash cans should be emptied frequently and have lids that close tightly. Regularly police the grounds for discarded trash. Keep exposed food and drinks to a minimum, and provide lids for beverage containers. Every one of these tactics are core to the premise of sound IPM: prevention is your best defense.
Some festival organizers have reduced the number of reported stings after adding yellowjacket container traps. The wasps are attracted to a sweet liquid inside the trap and then drown. On-going research at Cornell indicates that use of these traps may reduce the number of yellowjackets by as much as 30%. We and our partners have largely established traps on poles surrounding the concession stand area. Some vendors trap in the immediate vicinity of the concessions.
The suggested protocol is to start trapping about a week before the festival and to continue trapping through the festival. The traps should be serviced daily, especially immediately before and during the festival. There is also evidence that the traps do not merely intercept wasps that would have been present anyway but attract wasps. Thus the best use of the traps is probably when there will already to an attractant, such as concession stands. Some wasps may be able to escape the traps. Use of a surfactant, as dishwater soap, may reduce this.
IPM gets personal: Light-colored clothing is less attractive to wasps than dark- or brightly-colored clothes. Perfumes and strong-smelling soaps and perfumes may also attract them. Avoid erratic movement when a wasp is flying or crawling near you — by which we mean don’t try to shoo them away — or worse, swat them. Keep your food and drinks covered. It is far from pleasant to drink down a wasp! Insect repellents will not deter wasps.