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A source for information on yellow jackets

Yellow Jacket    Vespula spp.



About 1/2 -to 1-inch in length.


Generally small wasps with black and yellow stripes.


Yellow jackets are social insects that live in colonies containing thousands of individuals. Colonies are usually started by a single queen in the early spring, and are very small for the first couple of months. By midsummer, a colony located on or near a house is usually large enough to become a nuisance. These wasps will aggressively attack when their nest is disturbed, and can inflict painful stings. Unlike the honeybee, which stings only one time and then dies, a single yellow jacket can sting many times. Yellow jackets are scavengers and can be beneficial when located in a wooded area or a field. Colonies located in or near a home, however, can pose a threat to the persons living in the house. When this situation is discovered, the colony or colonies should be eliminated. Because of the danger involved in treating these nests, only a professional should attempt to treat them.

Yellow jackets, genus Vespula, get their name from their yellow and black bodies. They measure between 1/2-inch and one inch in length. Most yellow jackets are black and yellow, although some may exhibit white and black coloration. In contrast to the bee, the yellow jacket’s waist is thin and defined. Their elongated wings are as long as the body and fold laterally when at rest.

Known to be aggressive defenders of their colonies, yellow jackets are otherwise not quick to sting. The sting of a yellow jacket is painful and each insect is capable of delivering multiple stings. Yellow jacket stings may induce severe allergic reactions in some individuals.

Many yellow jackets are ground-nesters. Their colonies can be found under porches or steps, in sidewalk cracks, around railroad ties, or at the base of trees. Sometimes the queen finds an abandoned rodent burrow to use as a nesting place. Some yellow jackets build aerial nests in bushes or low-hanging branches or in the corners of buildings and other man-made structures.

A colony may contain a thousand workers by fall.  All of the workers are sterile females. In late summer males will begin to appear. When they become adults, they will mate with the females that will become the next year’s queens. The fertilized females will hibernate through the winter. The workers and the males will perish when the weather turns cold.

Yellow jackets are pollinators and may also be considered beneficial because they eat beetle grubs, flies and other harmful pests. However, they are also known scavengers who eat meat, fish and sugary substances, making them a nuisance near trash receptacles and picnics.

The Yellow jackets prefer to locate their nests in the ground, usually in an old rodent burrow or similar hole. This wasp also commonly locates its nest inside the walls of a building by entering through cracks or holes in the outside walls.

Economic/Health Concerns:
The following precautions should be taken to prevent accidental stings:

  • When working in a garden or flowerbed, be aware of numerous wasps flying into and away from a single point in the garden or to a hole in the side of the house. This will usually indicate where a colony might be located.
  • Be careful when using powered lawn equipment, such as edgers, trimmers and mowers. Loud, vibrating noises disturb yellow jackets and may send them into an attacking frenzy.
  • Stay away from yellow jacket nests once you know where they are located.
  • If yellow jackets are seen entering and exiting a wall, DO NOT plug the hole. You will only force the wasps to find another way out. Sometimes they might actually eat through an interior wall and enter the house.

Yellow jackets are wasps that can be identified by their alternating black and yellow body segments, small size and distinctive side-to-side flying pattern. They are often mistaken for bees, although their bodies lack the hair and rounded abdomen of the bee. These social wasps live in colonies that may contain a thousand insects at a time.

A queen yellow jacket builds her nest in order to lay eggs. After hatching, these eggs are fed by the queen until they are ready to pupate and mature into adult yellow jackets. Adults live through one season and feed on caterpillars, grubs and other insects. They also enjoy nectar and sweet substances such as fruit and tree sap. Yellow jackets are attracted to garbage and other human foods.

Yellow jackets are very protective of their nest and their stings can be painful. Because they are equipped with lance-like stingers without barbs, yellow jackets are capable of stinging repeatedly.

Many yellow jacket traps are non-toxic and pesticide-free. These traps lure yellow jackets through the use of odor attractant and then trap them in jars or on sticky surfaces. Many traps contain liners, which simplify disposal. Some yellow jacket traps are made from decorative glass. Some of these traps feature entrances that do not allow yellow jackets to exit.

Yellow jacket traps should be placed between two and four feet above ground and as far from human-occupied areas as possible. After captured wasps die from starvation, they can be removed from the trap. The trap may be placed in the freezer for a few hours prior to cleaning in order to kill surviving yellow jackets.

Yellow jacket traps will prevent wasps from gathering in certain areas, but are not effective in treating entire colonies. Contact your local pest control professional to discuss extermination methods.

"Riley Pest Management is a small company with a big heart that will go the extra mile to take care of an issue for you no matter when it happens. They have proven to be a very good friend to non-profits."

-- Duggan Cooley, former CEO- RCS

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