Wasps Are Living Through Winter and Building 'Super Nests' in Alabama

Thorsten Spoerlein, iStock / Getty Images Plus
Thorsten Spoerlein, iStock / Getty Images Plus / Thorsten Spoerlein, iStock / Getty Images Plus

A typical wasp nest houses up to 5000 insects and grows to be about the size of a volleyball. The "super nests" cropping up this summer in Alabama, however, can potentially grow to the size of a Volkswagen Beetle, making normal nests look small by comparison. As Science Alert reports, 2019 is on track to be a record year for the alarming phenomenon.

At least one or two super nests can be found in Alabama every summer, but they haven't been seen in the state on this scale in over a decade. The last time it happened was in 2006, when roughly 90 of the behemoths appeared in trees, on the ground, and on the walls of houses. That year, the first super nest was spotted in mid-June. In 2019 they were first recorded in May, suggesting there will be even more of them this summer than there were 13 years ago.

Super nests are one particularly unsettling side effect of a warming climate. Normally, wasp populations die out over the winter and return when it warms up in the spring. When the winter is unseasonably warm, as it was this past year in Alabama, wasps survive to form "perennial" nests, or colonies that persist through the winter and live to see the spring. The last year's population of yellow jackets, plus the new brood of insects, form massive, sprawling nests sometimes big enough to accommodate two queens.

Super nests have been found inside garages, sheds, and even abandoned cars, covering several feet and holding up to 15,000 wasps—making them three times larger than regular wasp nests at their peak.

Experts warn that homeowners should never try to remove super wasp nests themselves. Yellow jackets are more aggressive than many other types of wasps, and they can sting their victims multiple times. A southern Alabama man named James Barron learned that the hard way earlier this year when he tried to spray a super nest and got stung 11 times. If you see a nest, the best thing to do is hire a licensed commercial pest control operator to take care of it, and be mindful of where you step in the meantime.

[h/t Science Alert]