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Yellow Jackets Construct Huge Hive

by Lisa Coffey Mahoney
Staff Writer

The Montclarion
August 4, 1998

Had John and Mittie Igo's gardener not noticed a basket ball-sized yellow jacket nest tucked in the branches of a small magnolia tree in the couple's Hillside Avenue back yard, it might have grown as large as a trash can by early fall.

"There were probably 500 yellow jackets in the hive," said beekeeper Rich Crawford of Alameda's Burge Pest Control. On July 17, he sprayed drione dust directly into the hole of the hive to kill the insects.

Crawford added that if conditions are right, yellow jacket populations experience exponential growth.

"You can get a hive with up to 20,000 workers," he said. "Yellow jackets are a seasonal phenomenon," said Crawford.

"The colonies don't survive over winter," he said. "The queen lays eggs for the following spring."

Though the inside of the hive is honey combed with octagonal chambers like a beehive, yellow jackets do not produce honey.

It's no wonder that yellow jackets always seem to invade back yard barbecues. Crawford said adult yellow jackets are sustained by sweet liquids, like cans of Coke, and hunt and gather meat for the larvae in the nest.

The well-hidden hive in the Igo back yard resembles a paper mache globe. Crawford said the insects chew little bits of wood and fibers, then spit them out to make the nest. The different colors of the nest indicate the variety of items the yellow jackets have foraged, such as house shingles, plant materials or wood from different species of trees.

"We use the back yard all the time, and we have never seen anything extraordinary," said John Igo. "It's amazing. When I saw the hive for the first time, I almost fainted."

After the hive was discovered, said John Igo, the couple did notice a steady stream of yellow jackets coming from every direction.

The Igo back yard has become somewhat of a local tourist attraction. "We've had all kinds of people coming to take a look at the nest. Everyone is so impressed because it's so beautiful," said Mittie Igo.

Since the Igo backyard abuts Recreation Department property, the couple advised city recreation director Mark Delventhal that the nest was to be sprayed. "There was a chance the yellow jackets would swarm," said Mittie Igo.

Delventhal closed down the tot lot next door and kept residents and staff out of the immediate area for several hours that day.

Delventhal said his office had not received complaints about yellow jackets being a problem in the area. "It's incredible," said Delventhal of the nest. "It's just fabulous that nature could create such a thing."

"Yellow jackets can settle in a wide variety of locations," said Crawford, "such as a crack in concrete stairs, on the ground, or inside the walls or in the attic of a home."

"Look for lots of them flying in and out of a hole on a regular schedule," he said, adding that if you see ten of the insects coming or going every few seconds, it's likely there's a hive nearby.

There's really no way to tell what site yellow jackets will select for a home, and there's nothing that a homeowner can do to prevent the formation of a hive, said Crawford. "It's just bad luck," he said.

SHEET ROCK IS NO OBSTACLE

Crawford advises homeowners who hear munching and crunching in their walls at night to resist the temptation to bang on the wall. "That chomping could be yellow jackets building a nest," he said.

When yellow jackets begin to build a nest within the confines of a wall they have plenty of room, explains Crawford, but they quickly begin to fill the space.

"To make the hive bigger they will eat sheet rock away," said Crawford, "and could eventually puncture the paint and come into a house. We see about five cases like that a year."

"A homeowner banging on the wall could literally punch a hole through the stressed sheet rock, into the nest, and let the yellow jackets inside the home," said Crawford.

"You should go outside, on the opposite side of the wall, and see if you can see a flight light (yellow jackets coming and going)," he said.

Those people living in older homes can relax, though, yellow jackets cannot gnaw through lath and plaster, said Crawford.

Crawford said yellow jackets are very aggressive insects that will bite and sting repeatedly when provoked. Their sting can be quite serious for persons sensitive to their venom.

"They fly up to 30 mph. You will not outrun them," he warned, adding that yellow jackets can pursue a victim up to a quarter of a mile.

"Should a homeowner find a hive, it's best to leave it alone and call a professional," said Crawford, who dons full protection, including a jacket with a hood, a bee hood, and gloves, when attempting to eradicate yellow jackets.

"I get stung very rarely," he said, "and it's usually when I've made a careless mistake."

Photograph: Jeff Lindquist

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DON'T LET TERMITES BUG YOU

by Tricia Caspers
Staff Writer

Alameda Journal
June 8, 2004

If you own property, you've got termites, according to Richard Crawford, owner of Burge Pest Control. Posted around the Pacific Avenue office are maps of California, weekly and daily calendars, and a large picture of a termite chowing down on lunch.

There are usually anywhere from three to ten subterranean termite colonies on a piece of property, Crawford said. The trick is keeping them away from the house. The lucky thing for homeowners is that termites can't smell, so they bump around in the dark until they chomp into something tasty.

The best way to keep termites at bay is to stack firewood away from the house, and never store wood under the residence.

Termites are also attracted to dampness, so cork those leaks as soon as possible. Dirt tubes, about the size of a pen, are a sure sign that termites have come for an extended vacation. Crawford says there's nothing wrong with using over-the-counter chemicals to get rid of the unwelcome guests, as long as the person spraying is very diligent and consistent.

"It just depends on how much time you want to spend on it," Crawford said. People who don't want to spend their spare time dueling bugs, call him.

The first thing Crawford will do is come out, usually the same day to inspect the damage and write up an estimate. After that, the owner can decide whether she wants the entire house debugged or an area as small as 60 linear feet.

"You don't have to (spray) the whole house," Crawford said. "If you think of the colony as a hand, it's possible to spray just one finger."

Termites are social insects, which means they hang out together and touch each other. The chemical used to kill them doesn't work for 24 hours, and in that time the termites have spread the chemical around, like an infection.

The chemicals he uses have been approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. "Really, this stuff is safer than most of the cleaning products under your kitchen sink," he said.

Crawford will also rid homes of bees, wasps, yellow jackets and rats - anything smaller than a squirrel.

Just as Crawford says this, his phone rings, and he explains to a caller who's concerned that there's a dead raccoon in her attic, that she'll have to call a trapper.

"The smell will gradually get worse until it's really intense and then it will fade," he says. "If the smell has had the same intensity and comes and goes, it's probably mildew, also not his area."

Crawford suggests that homeowners have their houses inspected every two or three years.

"Termites are a small problem," he said. "Dry rot is a bigger one. If that goes unnoticed, they'll have to rip off half of the house to fix it."

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