Scientists studying migration of German yellowjacket

Paul Hutchings phutchings@thewesternstar.com
Published on July 14, 2011
The German yellowjacket is no more dangerous than any other wasp found in this area, but scientists are tracking its migration, as it was found in St. John’s for the first time two years ago.
Submitted photo

DEER LAKE — Summer months mean swimming, barbecues and insects — lots and lots of insects. This summer, people in Deer Lake have noticed some interesting new bugs they have not readily identified.

The German yellowjacket might be one of those rare insects. The type of wasp found mainly around Europe was found in St. John’s about two years ago and entomologists say it could make its way west, depending on what kind of summer this turns out to be.

It’s still a little early to tell according to Dr. Matthias Buck of the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton. The bugs look very similar to any other wasps in Newfoundland and Buck stressed they are no more dangerous than any native insect.

“We’re really interested in this insect because we are tracking its migration patterns since it was accidentally introduced to North America, not because of their bites,” he said. “Yes, they can sting if they feel threatened, but it’s like any other type of wasp.”

He said it’s a mystery how the insect would have been accidentally introduced. International shipping has increased immensely over the last century and very often native creatures in other lands hitch a ride on ships from Europe, which he thinks may happened in this case, or airplanes from Africa.

“I would be very surprised if (the German yellowjacket) made its way to (western Newfoundland), but if it does we want to know about it,” said Buck. “We’ve found that ordinarily they do much better in urban areas probably because the winters are warmer for them.”

Still, he said, the insects can turn up anywhere.

The German yellowjacket is normally a half-inch long. It is similar to a regular wasp, but it has three tiny black dots on its face. The insect also has black dots on its abdomen while regular wasps have black rings that form different patterns. It has been found across recently, in places like southern Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Alberta. American scientists have seen them as well in several parts of the United States.

Like any stinging insect, Buck says yellowjackets can be dangerous if a nest is found. He said those who think they have found a German yellowjacket should get in touch with the provincial department of agriculture.

Anyone who thinks they have found one can send him a picture in an email, at buckmb@gmail.com.