MILTON — Ken Parker and his daughter, Melissa Moore, have a warning for Santa Rosa County residents working or playing outside: beware of underground yellowjacket nests.
While doing his job as a Milton meter reader Monday, several of the wasps attacked Parker, stinging him three times and sending him to the hospital.
Parker was on an unfamiliar route, helping a fellow meter reader dealing with a death in the family, when he encountered the wasps. He was between meters at a Lakewood Drive home when the wasps swarmed him.
“I read the water meter and went to read the gas meter,” Parker said. “I was walking down the driveway when they started to hit me. I must have disturbed them while I was walking.”
He was close to his truck but the yellowjackets stung him three times.
“They kept hitting the window,” he said.
Parker decided to go to the hospital immediately.
“I felt pain, burns,” he said. “I knew they hit me good on my face and arms. I went to the hospital straight away. The pain was intense. I’m allergic to stings…I had swelling. My tongue started to swell. I was worried about my esophagus. I had an IV. (Hospital staff) put in about four injections in my IV to stop the process. I was in about four hours.”
He went back to the property in question to leave a note on the mailbox letting the owners know where the wasps are. Now, Parker is being cautious.
“I have an EpiPen, now,” he said. “I keep it at all times in the truck.”
“I just want people to be aware of this, his reaction, how bad it was,” Moore said. “People need to know. I’ve lived here since 1998 and never encountered anything like this. I didn’t know they could build underground nests. He got three stings. He was borderline anaphylactic. It was horrible.”
Now Moore is concerned with children playing outside.
“My fear, with his reaction to three stings,” she said, “I don’t want a child stung or older person who doesn’t have a great immune system…I have three kids. I couldn’t imagine if they got attacked. We wouldn’t know where they came from.”
Yellowjackets typically build their nests in the ground, according to Santa Rosa County Extension Director and entomologist, Mike Donahoe.
“The problem is, this time of year, like most wasps, they start to nest in the spring,” Donahoe said. “That nest queen lays more eggs and the nest gets larger as the summer goes on. By fall, the nest is at peak size. They’re very aggressive and protective. If somebody stumbles too close to the opening, they can be stung. People can get stung multiple times. They can be very dangerous.”
The nests tend to be in out-of-the-way places, Donahoe said, like under bushes or at the edges of fences and roadways.
“I have seen above-ground nests like maybe a cardboard box or a car port,” he said.
The nest itself is grayish and papery and can be as large as a basketball. They’re typically attracted to sugar in the form of sweets, drinks and overripe fruits, according to Donahoe.
“You don’t see them in flowers as much as you do bees,” he said.
Those allergic to bee and wasp stings are most at risk, Donahoe said, but even those who aren’t allergic should seek medical help if stung multiple times.
“That’s the danger, all that venom,” he said.
The best way to find them is to see where they go when they’re out flying, Donahoe said.
“They’re more active when it’s sunny, less active at night when it’s cooler,” he said.
Donahoe recommended calling a professional pest control service over eradicating a yellowjacket nest without help.