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Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets: Upper Valley abuzz with pollinators

  • Mike Frace prepares to move a hive on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at his home in Woodsville, N.H. As the owner of Hillside Hives, Frace maintains 45 hives in the area. He said the large dandelion crop helped pollinators tremendously this spring. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mike Frace looks for a queen in one of his hives at his home in Woodsville, N.H., on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, as he moves a hive to the community garden in town. He has been raising bees for seven years. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Honeybees are moved by Mike Frace at his home on Tuesday, June 2, 2020, in Woodsville, N.H. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 6/6/2020 10:20:34 PM
Modified: 6/16/2020 4:30:34 PM

Dave Smith can’t recall a time during the 20 years he’s lived in Wilder when he’s seen so many yellow jackets.

“They seem to be hanging around my windows a lot,” Smith said. “They hover around the screens; they try to get in.”

After a few made their way into his home, Smith has checked his windows and screens for openings.

“They act like they’re aggressive, but I haven’t been attacked when I’ve been outside,” Smith said.

Smith is one of many Upper Valley residents, beekeepers and biologists who have taken note of the increase in yellow jackets, bumblebees, honeybees, wasps and hornets this spring. It’s shaping up to be a good year for pollinators due to the mild winter, which made it easier for them to survive, leading to an active spring for the insects as they clamor to build nests.

“It was probably, I’d say, two to three weeks ago when the trees started to bloom and flower. ... I just had never seen that many hornets and wasps and yellow jackets,” said Dawn Archambeault, a beekeeper located in Hartland. “I’ve just never seen anything like it, honestly.”

The bumper year is particularly good news for Vermont, where pollinators remain in peril, according to the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department. The state at one time had 17 bumblebee species on record, and a recent study showed that some “have drastically declined or even disappeared” from the state.

Pollinators get buzzing in the spring, when they emerge looking for new homes, and in the fall, when they prepare to overwinter.

“I think it is slightly more active this spring, but nothing to be alarmed about,” said Olivia Saunders, fruit and vegetable production field specialist at the UNH Cooperative Extension. “That activity should slow as we enter into the summer and they kind of get into a normal routine. I think it’s just kind of a natural ebb and flow cycle.”

While their role in the ecosystem is similar, not all pollinators are created equal. Some prey on other insects, but many are only looking to feast on flowers.

“Wasps and hornets are predatory. They’re going to be feeding on the soft-body insects. If you leave a cantaloupe or some sort of fruit out, they might feed on that ... whereas honeybees, other bees, they are feeding only on nectar and pollen,” Saunders said.

Chris Jacobson, an organic gardener in North Hartland, says he first noticed more bumblebees in early May while working on properties in the region.

“The lawns were covered in violet, and that’s where I was noticing them more. You go from violet season to dandelion season to all those other early flowers, just witnessing them looking for whatever’s available,” Jacobson said. “Often, it’s a lone bumblebee. Now, it’s like they have all their relatives descending on the garden.”

Archambeault started keeping bees three years ago after learning more about the decline of pollinators and the detrimental impact that can have on the environment.

“Honeybees are actually incredibly docile and sweet little souls,” she said. “Unfortunately with hornets and wasps, they do not die when they sting you. They keep stinging you.”

While being stung can be dangerous — Dr. Karen Hsu Blatman, section chief of allergy and clinical immunology at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, says anyone with some swelling beyond where they were stung should seek medical care — it’s important to remember that pollinators play an important role in the ecosystem, from gardens to farms.

Michael Fowler, owner of Fowler’s Pest Control in Sunapee, said he’s been getting about 20 to 30 calls per day from people, mainly about about wasps. In addition to the weather, Fowler said the influx of seasonal residents returning to the area earlier than usual due to the COVID-19 pandemic also has been a factor.

“I haven’t seen anything like it in 35 years of doing the work,” he said last week, noting that most of the calls have involved paper wasps. “I’m sure it’s going to be a big year for yellow jackets and hornets as well. They all came out at once. They got off to a nice start.”

There are also natural preventive measures that people can take to keep pollinators out of their homes. Bart Mann, a beekeeper in North Haverhill who leads Connecticut River Valley Beekeepers, recommends holding off on mowing the lawn until dandelions are gone.

“That keeps them out there. They love the natural clovers,” Mann said. “The more wildflowers you plant, the ones looking for pollen and nectar will stay outside.”

An abundance of pollinators is an encouraging sight. “The more insects, the more insect-eating birds do well,” Mann said. “It should be a great year for honey.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@  vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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