Thom Smith: Night-time freeze will take care of paper wasps

Q: What to do about this nest that is hanging under a porch? (The writer enclosed a photo.) Will winter weather take care of this or do we call an exterminator? It is very active at present. Are they wasps or hornets?

— Barbara

A: If it is actually a problem-causing colony of paper wasps, and it was earlier in the season, I would suggest getting an exterminator. As it is now getting close to a night-time freeze, my suggestion is let nature take its course. Every fall the nest inhabitants die except for the queen, who finds shelter and hibernates for the winter. If you are intent upon ensuring an early colony die-off, you can always wait for a night when the temperature gets into the low 40s, or better still, take action before sunrise and douse the nest with hornet and wasp spray, soaking the inside. Please, never attempt this while nest inhabitants are or may be active. Their stings (which can be multiple) are painful and can produce a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction in some individuals. Although I have never been stung by a wasp that I know of, I did once slip and fall shirtless upon a yellow-jacket nest. It was as if I was being attacked by multiple sewing machine needles dipped in acid.

Wasps, hornets and bees are primarily angered when protecting their nest, or if you happen to lean against one or attempt to sit on it. When protecting their nest, many of these insects will use pheromones to call for help.

When about their daily duties, paper wasp workers will ignore us, unless we begin nervously swatting at them. Their nests are the often large and gray in color, seen hanging from tree branches especially after leaves fall. They also attach nests to eaves, under porch roofs, beneath decks, in garages or, in the case of one I saw recently, engulfing a wooden bird house.

Q: They say goldenrod doesn't cause allergies? Is this true, and if so, what does because it seems to me when I see goldenrod I start sneezing.

— Angela, West Springfield

A: It depends. If your allergies begin during the early goldenrod season it is more likely ragweed. Now, it is less likely ragweed and probably more likely something like pigweed (now with a high pollen count). Many plants, including trees, when blossoming in the spring cause allergies and we don't blame it on dandelions. So why blame goldenrod?

Many flowering plants produce heavy pollen that either falls to the ground and is wasted, or is transported from one flower to another by bees, flies, butterflies — the pollinators. I usually think of colorful flowers as being pollinated by insects. Included with the heavy pollen flowers is goldenrod. For the first time, I paid many visits to goldenrod, milkweed and especially some of the herbs in our garden getting photographs of pollinators. If the plants I visited were producers of lightweight pollen, pollen that is easily airborne, a good wind would reduce the particles, not so with goldenrod. Day after day, rain and wind after rain and wind, the pollinators return. Their pollen is safe from being gathered by our noses. Ragweed pollen is a different matter, it is very light and easily becomes airborne and floats easily in the air, to drift along on wind currents with no specific destination. This means a lot of pollen must be available for some to land on the correct flower, in this scenario, ragweed. We all interrupt grains of pollen without noticing, unless we happen to be allergic to it. People with allergies identify with the bright yellow, tall, eye-catching goldenrod and not the more diminutive (by comparison) green plant that is camouflaged from view unless you know just what you are looking for.

Thom Smith welcomes readers' questions and comments. Email him at or write him care of The Berkshire Eagle, 75 S. Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201


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