Yellow Jackets: A Complete Guide

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Yellow jackets are formidable stinging bugs. But is that all there is to this species? Obviously not. In this article, you will read and learn everything there is about yellow jackets. And no. I am not talking about Yellowjackets on IMDB!

How to identify yellow jacket wasps?

Yellow jackets are identified by black stripes on their yellow bodies.

Yellow jackets are a particular type of wasp that is easily identifiable by its alternating yellow and black bands on the abdomen. They are about ½ inch in length and can be found near homes, gardens, and other outdoor areas.

Foraging yellow jackets may be mistaken for honey bees because of their similar color. They are often attracted to the same food sources, so it is important to be able to identify them correctly in order to avoid being stung.

In addition, honey bees can be identified by the pollen baskets on their rear legs, which are often loaded with a ball of yellow or green pollen. Yellow jackets, on the other hand, have a smooth stinger that they can use to sting multiple times.

Unlike honey bees, yellow jackets also have a barbed stinger which means they can only sting once before their stinger gets pulled out of their bodies.

What habits can you observe in yellow jackets?

One of the most commonly observable characteristics of yellow jackets is their aggressive nature. Furthermore, they are predatory and feed on a variety of insects and other arthropods. This wasp can be found in a variety of habitats, including forests, meadows, and urban areas.

Interestingly, yellow jackets are considered beneficial insects because they eat other insects. However, they can be a nuisance to people as they are aggressive and have the ability to sting painfully.

There are many types of yellow jackets found in the United States. The most common type is the western yellow jacket, which is found in the northern temperate climates.

It is also worth knowing that yellow jackets are social wasps that live in colonies. They build their nests out of paper and chew them into a pulp to make their homes.

What do yellowjackets eat?

Typically, yellow jacket wasps feed on sugar and carbohydrates, as well as protein from prey insects. This is one of the main reasons that they are commonly found near picnic areas and in gardens, where they feed on the sugary drinks and food items that people have left behind.

In general, yellowjackets are attracted to sweet and carbonated beverages, as well as juices, candy, processed meats, cakes, fresh fruit, vegetables, and ice cream.

Another interesting fact about these bugs is the way the larvae and adults of the species interact with each other when it comes to food. For instance, adults chew up the prey insects and other sources of nutrition and leave the chewed-up content for the larvae to feed on.

Once the larvae feed on it, they secrete a substance which then the adults feed on. This process or phenomenon is called trophallaxis.

They are social insects that live in colonies, and during late summer and fall, they can become a major nuisance as they search for food materials that are in short supply. This can lead to conflicts with human activities as the wasps try to invade areas where food is available.

What are the types of yellow jackets and yellow jacket nests?

There are several types of yellow jackets, but they all share some common characteristics. They can be found in both structures and ground and make nests of paper from fibers in wood and saliva. Additionally, they are known for their aggressive behavior, especially when their nests are threatened with harm.

The German Yellowjacket Wasp

Above-ground yellow jacket nest

One such type is the German yellow jacket wasp. The German Yellow jacket usually nests in construction sites, wall voids, crawlspaces, attics, and cracks and crevices on the outside surface of a building. The German yellowjacket has been a danger to the beekeeping sector.

An entire colony of bees can be destroyed by hostile workers. These Yellow jackets construct nests of paper from fibers in wood and saliva. The German yellowjacket will also reuse the previous year’s nest.

The Common Yellowjacket Wasp

Vespula Vulgaris, the common yellowjacket, is found in several states in the United States. They can build nests both above and below ground. It is common for the Eastern yellowjacket to build a nest on the ground, but it can also be found flying in the sky.

Southern Yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa), a flying and ground-dwelling species, has both types of habitats.

The Western and Eastern Yellowjacket Wasp

Underground yellow jacket nest

Yellowjackets have also been known to lay their eggs in the ground, both in the West (Vespula pensylvanica) and the East (Vespula maculifrons). “Meat bees” is a common nickname for yellow jackets. Yellow jackets build their nests in rat burrows, which allows the colony to expand over time.

Little stones or dirt particles can be seen heaped up around the openings of a burrow that houses a huge yellow jacket colony. It is common for them to employ other materials near the ground, such as railroad ties or concrete blocks, that have suitable apertures.

The life cycle of yellowjacket wasps

Within the colony, there is a division of labor between workers and sexually developed queens (both females and males). The queen yellow jacket wasp is the only member of the colony that can lay eggs.

Newly fertilized wasp queens are the only members of the colony that overwinter, while all other members die off. In the spring, these new queens start new colonies by laying eggs.

In the spring, when the weather starts to warm up, yellow jacket wasps emerge from their winter hibernation. The queen wasp is the first one out, and she begins looking for a place to build a new nest. She will usually choose a spot in soil or in a hollow tree, but other possible locations include attics, porches, eaves, and sheds.

Once she finds a good spot, the queen builds a small nest and lays several eggs. These nests are constructed of layers of comb made of tiny bits of wood fiber chewed into a paper-like pulp. The eggs hatch and mature into adult workers.

The workers assume all the responsibilities of the colony, including foraging for food, defending the nest entrance, and feeding the queen and larvae.

As the season progresses, the colony rapidly increases in size and may reach several hundred workers by August. New queens and males are produced in large numbers during the colony’s peak population period.

For mating flights, these birds finally abandon the nests. As soon as they’ve been inseminated, queens fall to the earth and seek a safe refuge to spend the winter. As soon as they’ve had sex, males die swiftly.

During the fall, the parent colony begins to collapse quickly, and the original queen and workers perish with the onset of cold weather. It’s time for a new colony cycle.

How to control underground nests of yellow jacket wasps?

There are a variety of ways to control the population of underground yellow jacket nests. One is to apply insecticides directly to the nests. However, this can be dangerous and should only be done by a professional.

There are also other methods, such as traps and baits, that can be used to reduce the number of wasps in an area. Nonetheless, I have laid out the steps that you can use to go about this exercise!

Now, bear in mind that you should only ever carry out this exercise at night while wearing full protective suits.

Identify the nesting site and mark it.

Controlling underground nests of yellow jacket wasps can be tricky. The first step is to identify the nest entrance and mark it during the daytime. Once you have located the entrance, you can apply an insecticide. Be sure to follow all safety precautions when applying any type of chemical.

Apply the insecticide directly to the nest entrance or simply pour it into the nest.

When it comes to controlling underground nests of yellow jacket wasps, applying insecticide directly towards the nest entrance is your best bet.

You can buy commercial insecticides or make your own using ingredients like dish soap and vinegar. Be sure to follow all safety instructions when using any type of insecticide.

Follow up with a residual insecticide at the entrance of the nest.

Once you have already applied insecticide at night, you should check the following morning whether your attempt has been successful. For safe measure, you can also leave some residual insecticide at the entrance of the nest for the next few days!

How to control above-ground nests of yellow jacket wasps?

Yellow jacket wasps are a common sight in the late summer and fall. They can be easily identified by their yellow and black coloring. Many types of yellow jackets also build nests above ground, which can become a nuisance if they are near your home or business.

If, however, these nests are not close to your home or don’t interfere with your movement, you should let nature take its own course of action. If you live in a cold area, the low temperature will generally freeze and kill the colonies.

But in the event that these nests are close to your home and pose a danger to people, you should opt for power insecticides to get rid of these bugs. Purchase a sprayable insecticide in a pressurized container and simply point the nozzle directly into the nest before you spray it.

You might have to spray the nest multiple times to ensure that you get rid of all the wasps. Else, before you know it, a new colony will have emerged in its place.

Further, just like when dealing with underground nesting sites, you should only carry out this exercise at night and while wearing highly protective clothing to avoid getting stung!

How to control yellow jacket wasps in a building?

While the process of getting rid of yellow jackets inside a building is more or less similar to getting rid of their nests underground or above-ground, you’re in a tricky position since these wasps could be driven out of their nests without any open area to escape into. 

This would put you in harm’s way. Alternatively, they might simply move to a different location in the building itself.

Therefore, before you spray insecticide into their nest, you must ensure that they have no other entry points into the building. Further, they should have a source of light outside the building that they can move toward!

How to make homemade traps for yellow jackets?

Homemade traps are effective only for stray yellow jackets.

There are a variety of ways to trap yellow jackets. But you will agree with me when I say that the safest way is to make a homemade trap.

You can do this by hanging a raw fish or piece of liver about one to two inches above a container of detergent and water. This will attract the yellow jackets, who will then fall into the detergent and water and drown.

You should use detergent for a very good reason, without which your entire trap would be ineffective. The detergent or soap in the solution acts as a wetting agent and eliminates surface tension, causing the yellow jackets to sink.

The foraging yellow jackets will be attracted to the raw meat and will often eat so much that they’ll simply fall into the water and drown.

Of course, it is needless to say that this will not help you get rid of entire nests of yellow jacket wasps. But, this method is a useful one to get rid of a few stray wasps around your house!

What safety measures should you adopt while trying to get rid of yellow jacket wasps?

There are primarily three safety measures that you must adopt without fail.

  1. The first safety measure requires you to wear protective clothing before you go anywhere near these wasps. Bear in mind that these bugs are known to be aggressive and will sting you if they feel threatened.
  2. Secondly, make sure you apply insecticide to the nesting site at night. These bugs don’t have great vision, and without a source of light to fly toward, they won’t know where to go.
  3. Be sure to keep baits and traps far away from children or just people and animals in general. This will help avoid unwanted stings in your home!

Do yellow jackets sting or behave in an aggressive manner?

Yellow jackets are easily the most aggressive of all wasps when defending their nests. They have a potent sting that can cause a great deal of pain.

While yellow jackets are not typically aggressive and will only sting if they feel threatened, their colonies can be very protective. If someone disturbs a Yellow Jacket colony, the entire group can become agitated and sting.


The only conclusion from this entire article is that while yellow jacket wasps are incredibly fascinating creatures to study, you can only do so from a distance or from literature since these wasps are aggressive, social, and highly protective of their nests. This means that if you mess with one, you will get the stingers of the entire colony, especially if they feel you are a threat to their nest!

About the author

A biotechnologist by profession and a passionate pest researcher. I have been one of those people who used to run away from cockroaches and rats due to their pesky features, but then we all get that turn in life when we have to face something.