Hornets enjoying summer

Population is surging after mild winter and warm summer make life easier for insects

Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Saying Juneau has had a bad year for hornets depends on one's perspective.

An unusually productive year for the insects has the pest-control business buzzing, though at least one resident says she'd rather admire than quash the boom.

The stinging insects have thrived in the recent heat, according to people in the pest-control business. They say they've received an unusually high number of calls from residents who want the hornets gone.

"In previous years, we've had maybe 10, 12, 15 (hornet) calls all year," said Fred Boehme, manager of Paratex Pied Piper Pest Control in Juneau. "This summer we've been getting 10 to 12 calls a week."

"We're getting calls every day," said Dean Kennedy, part owner of Bug Busters in Juneau.

Auke Lake-area resident Jenny Pursell said she is enjoying watching the nest that recently turned up on her house.

"It's a beautiful thing," she said, standing about 10 feet from the nest under the eaves at the back of her house, on the edge of the forest.

Pursell said she goes out to watch the insects fly in and out of their delicate nest a couple of times a day, and makes sure not to do anything to anger them.

"They have not taken any interest in me at all," she said.

Pursell said she called a pest-control company, but only because she was curious about the insects that had done such intricate work at her home.

The nest "looks like a Japanese lantern," she said. She was gone for about nine days, and she came back to find it at the back of her home. It's about 14 inches long and about 10 inches in diameter.

The nests are usually about the size of a basketball or soccer ball, Kennedy said. The biggest he has come across this year was about the size of "a beach ball, about 3 feet across."

"They can build a nest the size of a football in three or four days," Kennedy said.

"They're building them rapidly," Boehme said.

Rather than admiring the nests as works of art, the people who call him are afraid of the stingers, Kennedy said. By Monday he already had gotten rid of 43 hornets' nests this summer and was scheduled to exterminate a couple more by the end of the day.

Often people can't see the nests but know they're around because they see the hornets, he added. Sometimes he finds the nests in attics. He recently found two nests in an attic. He also found a nest built in a vent coming out of a bathroom and another beneath a hot tub.

"You never know where it's going to be," he said.

He has talked to a lot of people who agree this has been a bad year for hornets, as well as carpenter ants. "All your bugs," he added. "It's the warm weather."

It isn't just the recent warm spell where Juneau had four straight days with temperatures topping 80 degrees, Boehme said. He blamed the weather last year and the mild winter for the bug boom.

The unusually warm and dry summer of 2004 began with a record eight straight days with Juneau temperatures reaching 80 degrees. Then there wasn't much snow accumulation until January, Boehme added. Breeding conditions have been good.

Getting rid of hornets isn't difficult, although there is a chance they will sting, he said.

Kennedy puts on a suit with a respirator for protection, he said. "I was attacked today," he said, adding that he was protected.

He advised people finding hornets to leave them alone. "They will attack to defend their nest."

• Tony Carroll can be reached at tony.carroll@juneauempire.com.

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