Last winter was warmer than usual in Alabama, leaving residents facing an unpleasant hazard in summer: Wasps' nest the size of small cars, containing thousands of irritable yellow jackets. Alabama Cooperative Extension System Entomologist Charles Ray says this year is on course to be the worst year for "super nests" since 2006, NPR reports. The nests, also known as perennial nests, occur when numerous yellow jackets survive the winter. In a typical year, cold weather and the lack of food kill off all the members of a colony except the queen. Ray says he has seen super nests with around 15,000 yellow jackets, though there was one in South Carolina that had 250,000. Ray says there were reports of 90 super nests in 2006, and this year appears to be on course to beat that number.
James Barron tells the New York Times that when he stepped foot in the smokehouse near his southern Alabama home for the first time in two months, he discovered a gigantic nest seven feet wide. He tried spraying hornet killer on it—but failed to remove the nest and was stung 11 times. Ray and other entomologists stress that anybody finding such a nest should call in experts to deal with it. In an Extension System blog post, entomologist Xing Ping Hu warns that yellow jackets cause most of the stinging deaths in the US. "Unlike other stinging insects, yellow jackets like to sting people," he says. "Yellow jackets do not lose their stinger, so each insect can sting repeatedly and generally attack in large numbers. They are especially dangerous in the summer." (This British man found thousands of wasps in a bed.)