Peirce is the hive of Kenyon life. It is filled with students bustling in and out, buzzing from table to table, pausing to eat and bond with their hardworking peers. However, the normal flow of Kenyon life was recently interrupted due to restrictions on indoor dining following rising COVID-19 cases. These regulations not only disturbed the metaphorical hive, but also brought attention to the literal hives all across campus.
With students more frequently eating outside as a result of the restrictions, it did not take long for the wasps on campus to find their new hunting grounds. Steve Vaden, Kenyon’s grounds manager, explained that the combination of the time of year and the additional food being eaten outside created the ideal conditions for the wasps and yellow jackets on campus.
“In late summer, [yellow jackets] become ‘sugarholics’ and substitute sugar for plant nectar. Items such as Kool-Aid, pop, orange juice or anything else with a sweet taste are attractive to them. Fruit also becomes a preferred meal,” he said.
During the summer, the size of each yellow jacket nest can increase to as many as 4,000 workers. These nests are difficult to locate, but can be found underground, in the walls of buildings or in the holes of trees. Yellow jackets are more likely to sting than other wasps, but their sting is less painful.
In addition to being a general nuisance, the wasps also harm bees’ reputations, according to Ilana Richter ’22, the vice president of Kenyon College Beekeeping Club (KCBeeC). Unlike bees, wasps will sting without provocation and can sting multiple times. “Bees are friends. Wasps are terrible lookalikes,” she said.
In response to the increased wasp population, the Maintenance Department has been dosing located nests with insecticide. Destroying these nests will limit the number of nests that will develop next year.
“There is no area treatment to ‘make them leave the area.’ I have treated several nests this year, but by the number of [yellow jackets] at the tents, it is clear we haven’t even made a dent,” Vaden said.
While this method may not be the most efficient, Richter cautioned against general pesticides because they cause extensive damage to the wider ecosystem.
“KCBeeC condemns the general use of pesticides, as they indiscriminately kill pollinating insects. Pollinating is a vital ecosystem function,” Richter said. Insecticide, meanwhile, targets only the wasp nest as opposed to a large area.
Although the wasps may be a nuisance for students, Richter explained that they do still provide some environmental benefits, such as pollinating plants.
“They eat pest insects and pollinate plants, so they’re generally good for the environment,” she said.
Ultimately, the wasps are simply an aspect of living in rural life, and they will naturally go away as winter arrives.
Luckily for Kenyon students, a decline in COVID-19 cases means the Peirce hive is open for indoor dining. Hopefully, students can continue to enjoy the warmth and shelter from wasps that Peirce offers for the rest of the year.