Buzzing Insects Bug Berkeley
By Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
Campus Pest Control Manager Arthur Slater is on-call 24-hours a day. He carries a pager and the campus police have his home phone number. This time of year, most of the calls Slater gets are about yellow jackets.
So far, he and his staff of three have exterminated more than 30 yellow jacket nests in the central campus and the season has just begun.
In a normal year, the yellow and black bee-like pests start becoming a problem in July. But, because of an unusually cold spring and summer, they didn't emerge this year until late August.
"The yellow jackets become abundant and run out of natural food about this time of year," said Slater. "When they run out of natural foods -- which are caterpillars, flies or whatever they can clobber -- they switch to scavenging. They go for dead meat, hotdogs or whatever you're eating for lunch."
And, that's where the problems begin. Yellow jackets seem to gravitate to the places where people hang out. According to Slater, they're especially fond of outside dining areas, swimming pools and the campus's nine child care centers.
If yellow jackets get aggravated, they're likely to sting, said Slater. And, unlike bees, yellow jackets can sting more than once without dying."The way to stop the yellow jackets from stinging is to get away from them," he said. "If you stop and swat at them, then you're in trouble. The yellow jackets are defending their nest and the farther you get away from their nest the less defensive they are."
The campus pest controllers use a variety of traps and baits to get rid of yellow jackets. Some are commercially sold, while others were created by Slater himself.
"One of the things that is important in our program is not only killing pests but risk reduction," said Slater.
Because most of the yellow jacket problems are in places people frequent, Slater uses only a few mild poisons and prefers traps that require only water to kill the pests.
One place where Slater's traps are welcome is the field station for behavioral research located in the hills above campus. The field station is home to 42 hyenas, who each eat about two pounds of meat every day.
"We feed the hyenas meat, and the meat attracts yellow jackets," said Kathy Moorhouse, animal resources manager at the field station.
"It's dangerous for the animal care staff who are trying to clean the cages and feed that hyenas. We also don't want the hyenas to get stung"
Yellow jacket stings don't feel good, and they can be dangerous for people who are allergic.
"One to three percent of the population will go into shock if they are stung," said Slater. "The campus has 50,000 people on it everyday.
"That's a large number of people who will go into shock if they are stung. This year we can expect the yellow jacket problem to be around for a while because it started so late.
"In most years, the season would end in October," said Slater. "This year, it could go well into December."