FAIRBANKS - With yellowjackets returning earlier than usual to Interior Alaska, experts are warning residents to start setting traps and stocking up on bug spray.
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"I've never had this many calls this early for wasps and yellowjackets," said Diane Claassen, integrated pest management technician for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service.
The early appearance of the yellowjackets portends a second consecutive year of heightened nuisance from stinging creatures.
Two residents died last year from allergic reactions to wasp stings, and yellowjackets terrorized the populace for most of July and half of August.
Several outdoor events were canceled or moved indoors because of the high risk of getting stung, and stores could barely keep their shelves stocked with wasp spray.
If dry, warm weather persists, experts say, the insects will likely thrive.
"This year might be as bad as last year if the droughty conditions continue," said Jim Kruse, an entomologist with the state Division of Forestry in Fairbanks.
The yellowjacket population could also increase because voles, one of the insects' primary predators, have fallen in number over the past year. And a sparse snowfall this winter provided just enough insulation for overwintering queens, but not enough melt to make them wet this spring.
Right now, the queens are searching for nest sites for their eggs, Kruse said.
He said residents can put out yellowjacket traps in an attempt to kill as many queens as possible, said Kruse.