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OVERCROWDED INSECTS ARE MAD AS A HORNET

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Jim Cook is a trained killer.

With a bee suit on his back and four years of entomology training under his belt, he stalks his prey.He climbs into root cellars, doghouses, attics, whatever it takes.

Cook, who runs Cook Pest Control, always gets his bug. And as far as he's concerned, wasps are Public Enemy No. 1 in the Magic Valley this spring.

"We've been getting calls for a month already, 10 or 12 today and 18 yesterday," he said recently.

Maybe because of the mild winter, maybe because wasps are finding more houses to their liking, people are awash in wasps.

"Usually the only one that comes out of winter is a queen," Cook said. "But this year, that didn't happen," most likely because January in the Magic Valley played like April in Scottsdale.

"Last year was by far the worst for yellow jackets of the 22 years we've been in business," he said. "Usually there's only one or two queens that don't die off," he said. "They all survived this year."

And in the bugs' overcrowded hangouts, everybody's testy. "There's a whole bunch of mated queens vying for the same egg spaces," he said. "They'll eat each other's eggs until only one has any eggs left."

Earl Jones of Gem Spray Service agrees there's a bit of a population boom among wasps, but he thinks the upswing might be a natural trend. On the other hand, people are building a lot of houses that wasps take a fancy to.

"Up in Wood River, the way those log homes are built attract them," Jones said. "The logs leave cold roof openings for insulation, leaving a nice place for the wasps to nest."

"Shingled roof homes are more difficult because the wasps are trying to find access to the cold roof," Cook said. "They're looking for spiders, larvae or ants to feed on."

"Wasps, yellow jackets and hornets prefer lighter-colored homes because, one, they can see the lighter colors, and, two, they retain heat more than the darker ones do on the outside," he said. "Ninety percent of the wasp problems are on light-colored homes."

Homeowners who want to take the law into their own hands usually find it's a bad idea, particularly when dealing with yellow jackets and hornets, the Crips and Bloods of the insect world.

"I've got a really healthy respect for them when I'm treating a large nest," Cook said. "We've got bee suits and the whole thing."

"Set off a `bomb' and they'll just wait around till they can get back into the nest," he said. "There's no residual effect in those insec-ti-cides."

Last year, Cook said, an older couple had planned to deal their yellow jackets out of the game, but at the last minute, the wife changed her mind and called Cook.

"It was inside a root cellar," he recalled. "I got in there with a flashlight and they honed in on that light. They were extremely fast."

Remember that yellow jackets will attack you in numbers. "The nest was about the size of a 21-inch color TV," he continued. "I'd estimate there were between 1,100 and 1,500 yellow jackets in that nest."

There's no doubt they would have killed the homeowner. "We've seen calves knocked down by bald-faced hornets, and at least 60 deaths every year in this country are attributed to stinging insects," Cook says.