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Yellow Jackets Have Built Massive Nests In Alabama This Year

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Imagine walking into your backyard shed to grab some tools and seeing a giant yellow jacket nest.

LAURIE BARRON: It was obvious it wasn't a normal situation.

CORNISH: That's essentially what happened to Laurie and James Barron. They live in Brantley, Ala., where they recently discovered a 7-foot-long nest on their property.

BARRON: It's in my husband James' smokehouse. It's a very active hive. There are yellow jackets swarming all on the outside of it.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now, the Barrons had not used the smokehouse for two months when they found this massive nest. It extends along the length of one wall.

BARRON: People ask us, well, are you blind? Didn't you see it? No because it wasn't there. And then it was there. We don't go out there every day.

CORNISH: Nests like the ones in the Barrons' smokehouse can be home to as many as 15,000 yellow jackets, possibly even more. And it's not the only super nest in the state.

CHARLES RAY: There's at least 18 more of those out there. And all of these - I've asked the people to at least wait until I've come out and have a look.

KELLY: That is Charles Ray. He's an entomologist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. Usually he gets one or two reports about super nests a year. But this year has been different.

RAY: I got two calls very early back in mid-May - had never seen a nest that early.

CORNISH: This isn't the first time Ray has seen unusually large yellow jacket nests in Alabama. He recorded nearly a hundred in 2006 after a warm winter. Yellow jackets usually freeze to death in the cold, leaving the surviving queens to start colonies from scratch. Ray speculates that now warmer temperatures have allowed these colonies to grow perennially just like in 2006.

RAY: We think we know, but we'd like to determine what environmental factors are allowing these nests to occur.

KELLY: Ray says these larger nests are actually much more docile than smaller nests you might find in the ground. However, if you see one, do not touch it.

RAY: We're seeing these nests very early. It's very possible we will see a lot of them. If you see one, please call us. And don't try to take care of it yourself.

CORNISH: Laurie and James Barron say they're perfectly happy to leave those thousands of wasps alone.

BARRON: One is too many for me.

(LAUGHTER)

KELLY: Since Charles Ray has seen their 7-foot super nest, the Barrons are now in the process of contracting professionals to remove it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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