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Campus insects make a buzz as COVID-19 brings more of student life outside

You hear them before you see them. That telltale buzzing sound. Soon enough there are three or four of them orbiting you. Maybe you are eating or maybe you are just sitting peacefully. All across campus, yellow-striped insects come into your space and make their presence known. But are they as scary as we are led to believe? 

Concordia is home to many different species of bees, wasps and insects that emulate the colors of the previous two. Bryan Bishop, professor and chair of the biology department, thinks we all need a better understanding of our campus’s yellow-striped friends. 

A selection of yellow-striped insects found on campus, Sarah Schroeder

The main perpetrator of stings on campus is the yellowjacket wasp. Bee enthusiast Greta Leines offered her insight, explaining that, “A lot of people just generalize all flying things that are around the size of a bee and a similar color as bees. So people have this idea that yellowjackets are  bees, but they’re not bees!”

So what exactly makes these yellowjackets come to us? 

“They will gladly take an interest in what you’re doing and what you’re eating,” said Bishop. 

It is difficult to say what exactly these insects will chase after because they are generally very curious creatures. Bishop knows that they will gladly go for an apple, grilled chicken, or anything with a savory smell.

“Yellowjackets are social insects. If you do anything to disturb the hive, that’s when they will come at you,” explained Sarah Schroeder, a member of the Exotic Animal Care and Husbandry club and self-described pro-wasp activist. This disturbance can range from actively aggravating the hive, to simply getting too close to their territory. 

Leines offered some tips for not getting stung. 

“If you don’t make a huge fuss about it, and you just walk away, [yellowjackets] won’t sting you,” said Leines. “They don’t want to sting you, but they will if they feel threatened.” 

Staying calm and not swatting at them is the best practice for avoiding most unfortunate run-ins with our yellow-striped neighbors. 

Schroeder holds a special place in her heart for wasps, even yellowjackets. 

“They’re really seen as a pest, and they can be a pest, but they also eat a lot of pest insects in gardens,” said Schroeder. 

While yellowjackets themselves are sub-par pollinators, some insects mimic their coloring as a form of self-defense. 

“Those are pollinators,” said Schroeder. “They mimic the coloration of the yellowjacket to protect themselves from predators.” Schroeder further explained that without the aggressiveness of yellowjackets, these pollinators would have little to defend themselves. 

Rarely will we be bothered by bees. 

“[Bees] are interested in flowers, pollen, nectar but not what’s in your ham sandwich” explained Bishop. You have to go out of your way to be stung by a bee in most circumstances. The green sweat bee, which can sometimes be seen by the library, is rarely noticed by students. 

“Most people don’t notice them because they’re not flying around people, they’re only visiting flowers,” said Bishop. 

According to Bishop, Minnesota is home to over 450 types of bees. With a deeper understanding of the different species of yellow-striped insects in our community comes a greater appreciation for their work, even yellowjackets. While yellowjackets are not Schroeder’s favorite insect, she understands their purpose in our regional ecosystem. The next time you are outside and you hear the eerily close buzzing of a yellow-striped insect, you will at least be able to appreciate its role in our community as you’re staying calm to avoid being stung.

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