Have you ever heard of a wasp that eats meat?
It’s not something you see every day – a yellow jacket feasting on a deer carcass.
Molokai resident, Gregory Solatorio, captured video of the carnivorous pest while hunting on a friend’s property above Kaunakakai on Molokai in mid-August.
“I was cleaning a deer with a friend and the bee landed on top of the deer I was cutting up and started just going crazy on top of the meat,” Solatorio said.
The insect is not actually a bee, it’s called Vespula pensylvanica, or a western yellowjacket.
You can see a photo of the wasp feasting on a deer carcass in the slideshow below.
According to Cynthia King, an entomologist from the Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, the wasps have been in Hawaii for over a century.
“But they became more common in the 1970s when they were introduced with a lot more frequency from refrigerated shipments of Christmas trees from the Pacific Northwest,” King explained.
They thrive in higher elevations and in cooler areas like Haleakala National Park on Maui and Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island. The species is native to western North America, especially states west of the Rocky Mountains and into southern Canada.
King said both have been dealing with fluctuations in the western yellowjacket population for decades, with numbers usually peaking in September and October.
She said it’s important for people to be aware since yellow jacket season is coming up.
The wasps are known to nest underground and are attracted to sugars and sweets.
“That’s one reason that they bother people,” King said.
Unlike honey bees, they can sting you multiple times, which can be very painful and deadly for anyone allergic to stings.
But, she said, it’s their carnivorous, predatory appetite that poses the greatest threat. Western yellowjackets have even been known to prey on bird nestlings, according to the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International.
“They just take down our native biodiversity, the native moths and spiders and bees and flies, so they can have really sort of cascading influences in our native ecosystems,” explained King.
King said they are threatening native forests and Hawaii’s watershed.
The United States Geological Survey and other agencies have used insecticidal dust and baits to kill the wasps and the Department of Agriculture works tirelessly every fall to ensure none of the pests hitchhike into the state on Christmas trees.