Yellow jackets are a type of social wasp that can often be found buzzing around your backyard. Known for their distinctive yellow and black stripes, they play an important role in controlling insect populations. However, their aggressive nature and painful stings make them a nuisance to many people, especially in late summer and fall when they are more likely to be attracted to human food and drink.
Typically, yellow jackets construct their nests in the ground or in other concealed locations. While they might seem intimidating, it’s important to know that they are considered beneficial insects due to their diet consisting primarily of other insects. But, if they do pose a hazard to humans, their nests might need to be removed.
To avoid conflict with these fascinating yet pesky creatures, you should be cautious when spending time outdoors. Make sure to keep your food covered, and be aware of your surroundings to avoid disturbing their nests. This will help to maintain a peaceful coexistence between you and the yellow jackets.
Understanding Yellow Jackets
Defining Yellow Jackets
Yellow jackets are a type of social wasp belonging to the genus Vespula. They are often mistaken for bees due to their similar size and color. However, yellow jackets are typically more aggressive than bees and can deliver painful stings when they feel threatened. These insects live in colonies with a queen, workers, and male drones, just like bees.
A few characteristics of yellow jackets include:
- Yellow and black striped bodies
- A smooth, shiny appearance
- Size range from about 3/8 to 5/8 inch in length
- Can sting multiple times without losing their stinger
Yellow Jackets vs Bees
Here’s a brief comparison table to help differentiate yellow jackets from bees:
|Yellow and black striped
|Fuzzy, often with multiple colors
|Smooth and shiny
|Hairy and more rounded
|Insects and sugary substances
|Primarily nectar and pollen
|Generally more aggressive
|Less likely to sting unless provoked
Yellow jackets are more attracted to sources of sugar and protein, while bees focus mainly on collecting nectar and pollen from flowers. Bees play a crucial role in pollination, unlike yellow jackets. In terms of stinging behavior, yellow jackets are more likely to sting than bees, and can do so multiple times. Bees, especially honeybees, can only sting once and die afterward.
By understanding the differences between yellow jackets and bees, you can better identify and respond to these insects in your environment. Keep in mind that yellow jackets are more aggressive and can pose a higher threat if encountered near their nests or around sources of food.
Biology of Yellow Jackets
Life Cycle of Yellow Jackets
Yellow jackets have a fascinating life cycle. In the spring, fertilized queens emerge from their overwintering locations and begin searching for a suitable spot to start a new colony. Once they find a location, usually underground, they build a small nest and lay their first batch of eggs. As these eggs hatch into larvae, the queen feeds them by hunting insects and bringing them back to the nest.
After approximately 30 days, the larvae develop into adult worker yellow jackets which are mostly females. These workers take over the various tasks in the colony, such as foraging for food, caring for young, and expanding the nest. The queen continues to lay eggs throughout the summer, and the colony can grow to thousands of individuals by the fall. As the season progresses, some of the eggs will develop into new queens and males who will mate and begin the cycle anew after the original colony dies off in late fall.
Diet of Yellow Jackets
Yellow jackets are predators and scavengers, feeding on a variety of insects and other food sources. Some of their preferred prey includes:
- Insects: They will hunt insects like caterpillars and flies, helping to keep their populations in check.
- Nectar: yellow jackets drink nectar from flowers for energy, much like honeybees do.
- Honeybees: Occasionally, yellow jackets may attack honeybee colonies to steal their honey and larvae for food.
- Human food sources: In the late summer and fall, yellow jackets become more attracted to human food sources, such as sweets and proteins found at picnics and other outdoor events.
Habitats of Yellow Jackets
Yellow jackets are known for their diverse nesting habits, which include:
- Underground nests: By far, the most common nesting location for these insects is underground. They prefer sandy, well-draining soil and may even take advantage of pre-existing holes or cavities.
- Trees and shrubs: Some species of yellow jackets will build their nests in trees and shrubs, usually hidden within dense foliage.
- Attics and wall voids: It’s not uncommon to find yellow jackets nesting inside the attics or wall voids of residential homes or other structures. This can pose a problem for residents who may have a higher risk of being stung due to proximity.
Remember, while yellow jackets are beneficial insects that help control pest populations, they can also become aggressive, particularly in the fall when their colonies reach peak size. If you suspect a nest near your home, take precautions to avoid being stung and consider enlisting professional help to remove it safely.
Signs of Yellow Jacket Infestation
A yellow jacket infestation can be quite the nuisance. To identify if you have an infestation, look for their nests. Yellow jacket nests are often located in soil cavities, woodlands, pastures, parks, and lawns (source). They may also nest within wall voids in urban areas. Signs of infestation include:
- Increased yellow jacket activity around your property
- Spotting the nest itself
- Buzzing sounds near the nest, or around the infested area
Being aware of these signs can help you take action before the infestation becomes severe.
Yellow Jackets in Vehicles
Yellow jackets are not limited to just your home or yard; they can also infest vehicles. This can pose a threat to your safety while driving. If you notice a buzzing sound in your car or see the insects flying in or around the vehicle, it might indicate their presence.
To avoid attracting yellow jackets to your car, keep it clean, and avoid leaving food or drink inside. Open the windows occasionally to let fresh air in and inspect your vehicle regularly for any signs of a nest or infestation.
By staying vigilant and paying attention to the signs of a yellow jacket infestation, you can take steps to address the problem quickly and effectively.
Managing Yellow Jackets
Preventing Yellow Jacket Infestation
To prevent a yellow jacket infestation, it’s essential to maintain proper sanitation around your home. Keep your garbage and trash cans tightly sealed to avoid attracting these pests. Regularly clean up any fallen fruit, as yellow jackets are attracted to sweet substances. In addition, inspect your property for any holes or openings they could potentially nest in and seal them to prevent entry.
Here are some additional tips for preventing yellow jacket infestation:
- Keep garbage cans away from your home or outdoor gathering areas.
- Avoid brightly colored clothing and strong fragrances, as they can attract yellow jackets.
- Regularly check your property for nests, especially during the late summer and fall.
Getting Rid of Yellow Jackets
If yellow jackets have already infested your property, you can try using wasp traps—especially ones that target yellow jackets specifically. Follow the directions on the trap and place it near the nest or areas where yellow jackets frequently appear. Monitor the trap and replace it as needed.
However, if a nest is found, it’s generally best to contact a professional pest control company rather than attempting to remove it yourself. Yellow jackets can be aggressive when their nest is threatened, and their sting can be painful or even dangerous for those with allergies.
In summary, properly maintaining your property and using appropriate preventive measures can help you avoid yellow jacket infestations. If an infestation has already occurred, using traps or enlisting the help of a professional pest control company is the safest and most effective method to get rid of them.
Interaction with Yellow Jackets
Yellow Jackets at Picnics
Yellow jackets are often attracted to picnics due to the food available. Be cautious when eating outdoors, as these insects are particularly drawn to meat and sweet foods. To minimize their presence at your picnic, keep food covered and minimize spills.
- Seal food containers: Use airtight containers when taking food outdoors.
- Clean up spills: Wipe up any spills immediately to avoid attracting yellow jackets.
Yellow Jackets and Pets
Your pets may also encounter yellow jackets in the backyard, especially if they have food bowls outside. Yellow jackets can be aggressive when they feel threatened, which may lead to stings if your pet disturbs their nest or attempts to capture them.
To help protect your pets from yellow jackets:
- Move pet food indoors: Feed pets inside or move their food bowls indoors when not in use.
- Check your yard: Inspect your backyard for yellow jacket nests and remove them safely if you find any.
- Teach your pets: Train your pets to avoid yellow jackets and to come inside when you call them.
Remember, if you or your pet gets stung by a yellow jacket, you may experience pain, swelling, and redness at the site of the sting. In some cases, an allergic reaction may occur. If you experience difficulty breathing, dizziness, or swelling of the face or tongue, seek medical attention immediately.
Professional Help for Yellow Jacket Infestation
When to Seek Professional Help
If you notice a sudden increase in yellow jacket activity around your home or find their nests on your property, it’s time to seek professional pest control assistance. While encountering a few yellow jackets is normal, a severe infestation can pose risks to you and your family. Professionals are trained to identify, locate, and safely remove yellow jacket nests.
There are two primary reasons to call an expert:
- Yellow jackets can be aggressive, especially when their nest is threatened.
- Their sting can cause allergic reactions, sometimes even fatal, in certain individuals.
Fun Facts about Yellow Jackets
- Yellow jackets are not bees; they are a species of wasp.
- These insects can be identified by their distinctive black and yellow colors and a thinner waist than bees.
- They are known to eavesdrop on other insects’ vibrations to track down their prey.
- Unlike bees, yellow jackets can sting multiple times without dying.
|Black and Yellow
|Brown or Black
|Ground or man-made structures
In summary, if you suspect a yellow jacket infestation, seek professional help immediately to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone at home. Yellow jackets are fascinating creatures, but dealing with them requires caution and expertise due to their aggressive nature and painful stings.
Treatment for Yellow Jacket Stings
If you’ve been stung by a yellow jacket, try applying ice to the sting site to reduce pain and swelling. You can also use:
- Baking soda paste: Mix a small amount of baking soda with water to create a paste and apply it on the sting area.
- Natural remedies: You might benefit from applying aloe vera, honey, or tea tree oil to the affected area to help soothe and decrease redness.
In cases where you experience severe symptoms such as vomiting, wheezing, or extreme redness and swelling around the sting site, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly. Medical professionals may provide:
- Antihistamines: These medications can help reduce allergic reactions to the sting, such as redness and itching.
- Steroids: If your reaction is severe, your doctor might prescribe a steroid to control swelling and inflammation.
Remember, allergic reactions may vary from person to person. Always keep an eye on your symptoms after a yellow jacket sting and don’t hesitate to seek medical help if necessary.
Safety Measures and Precautions
Preventing Yellow Jacket Stings
Yellow jackets can be aggressive when they feel threatened. To minimize the risk of stings, avoid wearing bright colors or strong scents that might attract them. Keep food covered, especially during picnics or outdoor events. Be cautious when walking near their nests, which can be found in the ground or on trees, as yellow jackets tend to be more defensive of their home. Additionally, keep trash cans and recycling bins tightly sealed, as these insects are attracted to sweet and protein-rich food sources.
Wearing appropriate protective clothing is essential when working around or near yellow jacket nests. Some examples of protective gear include:
- Long pants and long-sleeved shirts: These can help prevent stings on exposed skin.
- Gloves: Thick gloves can provide protection for your hands, a common area for stings.
- Closed-toe shoes: Sturdy footwear can protect your feet from stings and make it harder for yellow jackets to crawl inside.
- Veil or hat: A veil or wide-brimmed hat can shield your face and neck from stings, while also making it more difficult for yellow jackets to target those sensitive areas.
Remember to keep calm and move slowly if you encounter yellow jackets, as sudden movements might provoke them. By taking these safety measures and precautions, you can reduce your chances of getting stung and enjoy your time outdoors.
In summary, yellow jackets are fascinating insects with some unique characteristics. They serve important roles in the ecosystem, such as pollination and pest control. However, they can also pose risks to humans due to their aggressive nature and painful stings.
To better coexist with these insects, it’s essential to be familiar with their habits and habitats. For instance:
- Yellow jackets typically nest in the ground or in hollow structures.
- Avoid wearing bright colors or floral patterns that might attract them.
- Keep food and drinks covered to minimize their interest.
When dealing with a yellow jacket nest, it’s crucial to exercise caution. While some DIY methods might be helpful, it’s often best to consult a professional exterminator to handle the situation.
By understanding and respecting the nature of yellow jackets, you can appreciate their benefits while also taking necessary precautions to protect yourself and your loved ones. Remember to be cautious and respectful when encountering these creatures in your environment.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Giant Yellow Jacket or Cicada Killer???
Dear Mr. Bugman,
I live in northern Connecticut. Yesterday morning I noticed from a distance what I
initially thought was a dragonfly over my lawn. Upon closer inspection, I was totally amazed by something I have never in my life seen before. It looked like a GIANT yellow jacket. It was 4 1/2 to 5 inches long. The abdomen on it was black with bright yellow stripes and shiny, just like a yellow jacket. It flew around close to the ground for a few seconds, then disappeared into a hole in the ground about 1 1/2 to 2 cm. wide. I noticed quite a bit of dirt thrown around the outside of the hole, apparently from it digging its nest out. It wasn’t aggressive, as when the dog tried to sniff at it (I pulled him back in a hurry!) it just kept looking for its nest. I do keep honeybees within 30 feet of where this thing is making its home, and I’m hoping whatever it is, it is no threat to them as real yellow jackets are. Any information you can provide will be sincerely appreciated.
Sounds like a Cicada Killer, Sphecius speciosus, a large (though not as large as you indicate) solitary wasp that preys on cicadas and burrows in the ground. It will not harm the bees.
Letter 2 – Eastern Yellow Jacket Queen
Queen yellow Jacket
I looked and you don’t have a pic of a Queen Yellow Jacket, well here she Is she has been visiting for about a week now since the weather has been consistantly warm. I have been feeding her and any bugs that come along on my deck were I leave maple syrup,strawberry jam meat products and a dish of water. I get a pretty good turn out! lol Also this Is Naugatuck,Connecticut taken on 5/11/08. Enjoy,
Your photo is a near perfect match to one posted to BugGuide of an Eastern Yellow Jacket queen, Vespula maculifrons.
Letter 3 – Dust Covered Queen Yellowjacket
Polyester Bee In Idaho?
Sun, Apr 19, 2009 at 7:49 PM
We nearly stepped on this fellow in our kitchen in North Idaho. She is grey with a smooth abdomen and a fuzzy thorax and yellow front legs and face. At first we thought she was covered in plaster dust or something. Is she a polyester bee?
AnnE & James
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Dear AnnE & James,
We wanted to verify our suspicions with Eric Eaton, and this is what he wrote back to us: “Daniel: An extremely dusty queen yellowjacket, probably the western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica. Eric” With that, we can say you are lucky you didn’t step on her.
Letter 4 – Eastern Yellowjacket
Subject: First Fall Day. Fly/Bee/Hornet
Location: SW Michigan, USA
September 24, 2013 5:42 am
Here are a few more pics from my first full fall day foray in my backyard- in the middle of a mature oak forest. I’m sure that the hornet is an eastern Yellow Jacket, but it wasn’t pictured in my guidebook. The fly pictured was out in force on many leaves. The bee is half the size of the larger Bumblebees that I see. Could it be a Digger Bee? I’ve noticed in the last 2 weeks that they seem to nap on my Marigolds. I can actually stroke them with my finger and all they do is raise their middle pair of legs as if to say “leave me alone, I’m napping”. I’ve done this to many of them and they all react the same way.
Dear d.k. dodge,
Thank you for submitting nine photographs of insects and other bugs that you photographed on the first day of fall. We are posting the photo of a Yellowjacket because we don’t have many nice close ups of them and your photo is quite detailed.
Letter 5 – Hibernating Southern Yellowjacket Queen
Location: San antonio, tx
December 19, 2015 6:48 am
We found this colorful insect under a tarp. We did some research and think maybe a hornet but im not sure. I have never seen one like this before.
Signature: S. Mainka
Dear S. Mainka,
This sure looks like a Queen Southern Yellowjacket, Vespula squamosa, based on this BugGuide image. Since it is December and you found her under a tarp, we believe she was settling in for winter hibernation.
Letter 6 – Bug of the Month January 2019: Eastern Yellowjacket Queen
Subject: Wasp indoors in winter
Geographic location of the bug: Grayslake, Northern Illinois
Time: 01:16 PM EDT
Your letter to the bugman: My young cats found this wasp buzzing in the window today. Temps are a bit warmer than normal in the low 40’s, but I thought wasps died off in the winter and never expected to see one in January. Can you help me identify and figure out why (s)he’s in my house? I’m not one to kill things but I don’t want the cats to eat it or get stung either.
Thank you for all of your work!
How you want your letter signed: Karin
We believe this is a queen Yellowjacket, probably the Eastern Yellowjacket, Vespula maculifrons, which is pictured on BugGuide. Each spring, a female queen begins a new nest that grows over the summer and autumn, but the nest dies over the winter and reproductive female Yellowjacket queens hibernate, beginning new nests in the spring. We suspect you encountered a hibernating queen. Since few insects are sighted in northern climes during winter months, we have decided to make this posting our Bug of the Month for January 2019.