Yellow jackets are predatory eusocial insects belonging to the vespula family. Most yellow jackets are ground nesting wasps that can be easily be mistaken for bees. True to their name they have a prominent black and yellow coloring (except for the bald faced hornets that are colored black and white). Their rapid side to side flight movement before landing is a characteristic that helps to differentiate them from the bees.
Yellow Jackets Wasp – An Introduction
As mentioned above, yellow jackets are eusocial wasps that have a clear caste system. Each nest has a queen who sole purpose is to reproduce, the males who are used only for fertilizing the queen and the female workers who are required to work on the nest, feed the queen and the larvae, protect the nest and the queen, etc.
Yellow Jacket Facts
- Though there are 19 species of yellow jackets found in North America, only 5 of them are considered as pests
- They can be easily provoked by sounds and vibrations near the nest
- Yellow jackets nest can hold up to 15000 cells in the late summer weeks
Types of Yellow Jackets
There are a handful of this species that are found in the North American continent. Some of the prominent ones are discussed below.
German Yellow Jackets Nests
The German yellow jackets are also referred as the European or German wasp. Though it is natively found in Germany and Europe, this invasive species has made the northeastern parts of the United States, Canada and California as its home in the recent times. Though this is a ground nesting pest, it can be found in nesting voids inside buildings and structures. Like any other yellow jacket species, it defends its nest aggressively and is capable of inflicting multiple stings.
Common Yellow Jackets Nests
Also known as the common wasp, the common yellow jacket is popularly found in Eurasia and has been introduced in North America as well. These can be commonly sighted in wooded areas where logs and stumps are popular nesting sites. Common yellow jackets build nests that have open cells that are arranged in cylindrical columns known as petioles. They secrete a chemical that acts as an ant repellent which is deposited at the base of each petiole to protect the nest from these crawlers.
Aerial Yellow Jackets Nests
These are the common yellow jacket species found in North America. The nest construction begins with the onset of spring in early March and the workers along with the queen die out by the onset of autumn by the end of July. As the name suggests they build their nest off the ground mostly in man-made structures or trees. An active colony can house about 700 workers at any time. Though they are less aggressive than the other yellow jacket species, they can spray venom in the eyes of their attackers when provoked.
Bald Faced Hornets Nests
Though by name, these are referred as hornets, bald faced hornets are actually yellow jackets. True to their name, they are bald / white faced. The prominent black and white in their bodies resemble the colors of the hornets and hence the hornet reference. The bald faced hornet nests are built in April and the colonies decline with the onset of winter in September. Adults hunt live prey to feed their larvae. An active colony can house as many as 600 workers. They are not considered as a threat until and unless the nest is located in areas of high human activity.
Test Your Yellow Jacket Knowledge
- Do Yellow Jackets make honey?
- Do Yellow Jackets bite?
Yellow Jacket Nests
Yellow jacket nests are usually underground nests and are mostly not visible. The aerial yellow jacket and the bald faced hornets are the only two common specimens that build aerial nests. A typical yellow jacket nest comprises anywhere between 500 to 15000 cells that houses several thousands of yellow jackets. Yellow jackets can build nests in unoccupied rodent burrows, tree cavities, stumps, worn out logs, attics, abandoned vehicles, old barns and walls of homes.
The queen builds the nest by chewing up wood, vegetable fibers and mixing it with saliva to form a paper like substance. This is used to make the paper nests of these wasps. The nest contains a series of suspended combs where the queen lays her eggs and the young ones are hatched and reared. The combs are protected by layers of paper envelopes. The envelope’s surface is gray in color and has a scalloped texture.
Points to Ponder
- The southern parts of the United States that experiences mild winters and early spring has unaccountable colonies of this species.
- If the colonies do not die out during the winter months, they can grow to about a million cells with over 100,000 foraging workers.
Yellow Jacket Control
Yellow jackets as mentioned above are harmless until they nest near residences or places where there is high human activity. The safest option is to hire a professional to do the job as the possibility of being stung is very high while removing yellow jacket nests. A cool evening will be the right time to exercise yellow jacket control as the insects will be home after a day’s foraging and they are not every active in sluggish temperatures. A bee keeper’s attire will be the best protective gear for the job.
There are three popular methods used for yellow jacket control. Smothering the insects with a heavy tarp and bricks to hold them in place can help. Drowning an underground nest with boiling water can also be useful though there is no guarantee that all of them will be killed. Spraying wasp control pesticides can be the best way to go about. Freeze on contact sprays can be useful in particular. Pesticide dust can also give you a helping hand at clearing out these pests for good. Many organic products are also available in the market to choose from.