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My husband and I, two native New Yorkers, fled New York City's cramped apartments and roaches for the New Jersey suburbs edging the Meadowlands. Bigger apartment, no creepy crawlies, cheap rent. We reveled in the lower cost of living, hardwood floors, and windows that don’t face brick walls.
And then the wasps came.
We'd see one here, one there, and thought nothing of it. Then another wasp. And another. We noticed dead wasps piling up in the windows of our sunroom, an uninsulated enclosed porch off the kitchen where I keep my laundry.
Although I’m a seasoned roach destroyer, I can’t deal with flying stinging things in my home. Multi-legged pests that scurry when the lights turn on? Fine. I can grab that can of Raid and nuke the bastards with country fresh-scented napalm before they reach the wall.
But fly at me with a stinger of doom and I’ll run away, flapping my arms like an ineffectual penguin trying to attain flight, scream-crying while my four-year-old daughter chases me around like we’re playing a fun new game.
Because I’m both wary about using chemicals around my young children and incredibly cheap, I turned to Pinterest, purveyor of all things crowd-sourced and rarely tested, for a dish soap solution (1 cup water, 1 cup soap) to kill the bugs. The soap sticks to the wasp’s body and inhibits respiration; a few hearty spritzes dispatches the wasp in seconds. A victory for Pinterest and for me!
It was only a temporary fix, however, as the recently deceased seemed to be replaced by even more wasps the following morning.
A tidy apartment and boric acid kept roaches away in Queens. Nothing seemed to keep the wasps away in Bergen County. I just wanted to lob grenades in there: “TAKE THAT YOU STINGING BASTARDS!!!”
My cat got chased away from a window by one wasp, and I stepped on another that died on the floor, stinger-side up. A point of reference for those of you with kids: The searing sting of a wasp is more painful than impaling your foot on the pointy end of a LEGO.
My desire to kill every one of the wasps overwhelmed my desire for non-chemical, eco-friendly solutions. My hippie wasp spray wasn’t doing the job. I needed to kill the bastards to reclaim my laundry area, peace of mind, and ability to walk barefoot without the fear of crushing bug exoskeletons beneath my toes. I had no idea where they were coming from, and no desire to get stung again. I wanted them GONE. Thus began the parade of exterminators. Exterminator #1 (I’ve had four come over in the past two weeks) identified my unwanted roommates as southern yellow jacket wasps (Vespula squamosa), a highly social type of wasp that lives in large colonies.
He initially dismissed the invaders as a few drones that got lost in the void between the drywall and the vinyl siding, and were just seeking a way out. After investigating, his diagnosis went from “Oh, they’re just a few who got lost” to “Wow! I gotta call the office!”
A tech with a ladder and pesticides on a pole was at my house within the next hour. The exterminators both agreed that it was a very large nest, probably a few seasons old (!!!!!), that might or might not come back next spring.
The wasps’ point of entry was under a windowsill on the south side of the sunroom, but the nest itself was harder to find. The exterminators were looking for a single nest, a defined hive that they could eradicate.
Soon they discovered wasps behind the vinyl siding, above the window, behind the wall and across the ceiling. My sunroom WAS the nest. Wasps entered on the south wall, built their nest up and over the room, between the roof and my ceiling, and exited into my sunroom through gaps in the molding and window jambs. There’s no insulation in there to block their movement; the wasps have free reign. After two weeks, four exterminators, two big doses of Drione Dust sprayed into the exterior wall, a caulk-like goo daubed along every crack near every sunroom window, and some sort of fogger cloud of death that exterminator #4 had to administer by drilling a hole into the wall, the wasps are still here.
The kids’ bedroom window is diagonal to the chemical-filled point-of-entry and we’ve been unwilling to open it because of the insecticides and my mom paranoia.
The dead wasps, however, are quickly being replaced by the living. Stunned and dying from the insecticides, they’re making their way out of the nest that encompasses my sunroom and into the place where my cat lounges and I sort my dirty clothes.
The wasps don’t live longer than a day after they’ve exited their home and entered mine. They stumble and flutter about like they’re drunk, sometimes trying to walk on the berber carpet with their stingers snagging on the fibers every few steps. They die where they drop and leave quite the mess. These yellow jacket wasps have become unwanted roommates from hell.
My landlady is hoping that the treatments combined with the change of seasons will kill everything off for good.
At this point, the only other thing to do is tear open the walls and physically remove the nest, which would be very costly for her and possibly require my family (two young kids, a husband, an ornery cat, and myself) to relocate temporarily.
Neither of us want to acknowledge that, yes, maybe a contractor should tear down the drywall. My renter's insurance doesn’t cover bug infestation and neither does her homeowners insurance, which classes it as a “maintenance issue.” She understands that we might need to break our lease early and leave without much warning, an option that is increasingly likely as the infestation continues.
The insecticide is still in the walls, carried around by the wasps themselves. I’m still spritzing away at the live ones I come across. But they keep coming. Waves of wasp soldiers seem to have enlisted to replace their fallen wasp comrades.
As far as my next step? Wait. Cringe. Vacuum up the bodies. Repeat.
Last week, before the final barrage of insecticides, my husband vacuumed up the little carcasses littering the sunroom and lost count at 72. I cleaned up yesterday and sucked up at least 227 dead and living wasps. We placed bets on having another 200 dead in a week. Who knows how many are decaying in the walls or still alive and working their way across the ceiling and into our lives.
I've been working through the usual stages of grief, squeamishness, and anxiety. I had to be talked down from bolting to Cleveland with the kids.
In New York, I could set off a Raid fogger in the studio, leave for a weekend, and come back to a roach-free existence for a few months. That won’t work with these wasps. I just wanted to bail once I came to the realization that taking a can of Elnett and a lighter to my sunroom wasn't a logical means of extermination. The frost can’t come soon enough. I need these roommates gone.