Genus: Vespula

The Yellow Jacket is the common name for a variety of species of wasps which are common throughout North America, and are closely related to hornets. Adults are between 5/8 and one inch long, with characteristic black and yellow stripes on their abdomens, with transparent black wings. Female yellow jackets have a stinger on the abdomen which can repeatedly inflict painful stings if they perceive either a human or an animal to be a threat to their nest. Yellow jackets are social in nature, and work together to build nests, nurture the young, and produce new offspring and colonies. In natural environments, they tend to build nests near the edges of meadows in hollow logs, stumps, and natural voids in the ground. In urban and suburban environments they take advantage of man-made features, such as rotting stump piles, voids in rotting landscape timbers, voids such as hollow concrete blocks, inside open-ended pipes and railings, and spaces created where water undermines the soil supporting sidewalks and other concrete slabs.

Life Cycle

Each spring, mated females or queens from the year before establish a small nest and raise a small brood of female workers. Once this initial brood matures, the workers go about expanding the nest and forage for food to feed the queen bee and new and larger broods of workers she is able to produce, once she is freed from the burden of raising the initial brood by herself. In the late summer, she switches gears and produces fertile male and female larvae, which form the basis for next year's crop of yellow jackets. During the late summer, the nest expands to accommodate normally between 600 and 800 workers, but sometimes they grow to accommodate up to several thousand yellow jackets. Once the fertile brood matures, they disperse and mate. The old nest dies off in the fall, along with all of the males, female workers and the old queen. The mated females then seek shelter for the winter, and repeat the cycle the next spring.


In the spring, the young queens prefer a diet high in protein, and sustain themselves mostly on other insects and insect larvae. In urban or suburban environments, they take advantage of discarded food. They tend to avoid rotten meat, but the maggots which feed upon it make nice tasty morsels for them. As summer wears on, the worker bees and males prefer a high-carbohydrate diet of ripened fruits and nectar. Late summer is the time that yellow jackets tend to be the biggest pests to humans, as they are aggressively seeking out nourishment for the upcoming mating season. This is also right at the time that humans sometimes prefer to eat outdoors, when orchards, vineyards, and gardens are producing a veritable smorgasbord of munchies for the little yellow bastards. I found out that if you grow grapes, or make wine in a partially open shelter, you might as well ring the dinner bell for them.


Hornets, yellow jackets, and other bees play an important role in the ecosystem, helping control other insect populations, and help pollinate the flowers they feed upon. Yellow jackets tend to be more of a nuisance than a hazard when they crash a late-summer picnic, but if you, your children, or pets stumble upon their nests, the yellow jackets will defend it by inflicting multiple and painful stings upon the hapless intruder {been there done that}. Certain individuals can also develop a dangerous and even life-threatening allergic reaction to their venom.

The best strategy of course is avoidance. Early in the season, try to identify likely nesting spots such as rotted landscape timbers, fence posts, undermined areas under sidewalks and concrete slabs, rotting stumps and the like, and correct them if possible. Keeping trash in sealed bags and covered containers also helps. Identifying a nest is difficult early in the season, since the nest is small. Later in the season, a nest overlooked early on might be located the hard way late in summer. If such a nest cannot be easily avoided until freezing weather (which will kill the nest off naturally), the best way to eliminate the hazard is to wait until dusk (when most or all of the yellow jackets are in the nest), and spray in and around the nest's opening with a commercial aerosol wasp and hornet killer, which can spray a stream of pesticide 10 to 20 feet. Wear gloves and stout and snug-fitting pants and a long-sleeved shirt, with work gloves to minimize the chance of being stung. Do the dirty deed, then get the hell outta there!! It may be necessary to go back in the next evening to mop up the survivors however.

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