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What are Yellowjackets?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Yellowjackets are wasps in the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula. Depending on the region of the world where one is discussing these creatures, some people may simply call yellowjackets “wasps.” Most Americans use the term yellowjacket, and some people confuse these wasps with honeybees, despite many major differences between these insects. Many people view yellowjackets as pests, since they are fond of many of the same foods that people are.

It may help to know the difference between yellowjackets and honeybees before embarking on the specifics of the yellowjacket. Unlike honeybees, yellowjackets have no fine hairs covering their bodies, as they do not collect pollen. Yellowjackets are also more slender than honeybees, and they have distinctive bold stripes on their bodies. In addition, honeybees are somewhat larger, although in the heat of the moment this distinction may not seem terribly important.

Yellowjackets get their name from their radiantly colored bodies, which have bold yellow and black or white and black stripes which do indeed resemble a rather garish jacket. The insects live in large colonies, with workers who forage for favorite foods like small insects, sweet fruit, and garbage. Unlike the honeybee, a yellowjacket can sting something multiple times, although its stinger may eventually drop out. This can be a serious problem for people who are allergic to the venom produced by yellowjackets.

Around the garden, these insects can actually be extremely useful, because they are predatory and they will hunt out small insects which will ruin a crop. Unfortunately, if the supply of preferred food vanishes, yellowjackets will start to feed on crops in the garden, and they will also seek out human food, which may make picnics distinctly unpleasant. These wasps are also fond of building large nests in places like rafters and eaves, which can pose a problem.

There are a number of ways to control a wasp problem. Most people prefer to hire a company which specializes in pest control to get rid of wasps, since these professionals have equipment to avoid stings and safely handle the animals. It is also a good idea to keep foods and drinks covered as much as possible so that yellowjackets are not attracted, and people should try to stay calm around yellowjackets. The wasps will generally not sting unless they are provoked, so swatting at them or panicking is not a good idea.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are yellowjackets?

Yellowjackets are a type of wasp known for their distinctive yellow and black striped bodies. They belong to the genera Vespula and Dolichovespula and are often mistaken for bees due to their similar size and coloration. Unlike bees, yellowjackets are more aggressive, especially when defending their nests, and can sting multiple times.

How can you differentiate between yellowjackets and bees?

Yellowjackets have a more vibrant yellow coloration with a defined waist between their thorax and abdomen, whereas bees are fuzzier with a more muted color pattern. Yellowjackets are also sleeker and less hairy compared to bees. Additionally, bees typically carry pollen on their hind legs, which yellowjackets do not do.

What do yellowjackets eat?

Yellowjackets are omnivorous and have a diverse diet. They feed on proteins and sugars, including insects, fruits, and nectar. They are also attracted to human food, particularly meats and sweet beverages. This diet flexibility helps them thrive in various environments, from rural to urban settings.

Where do yellowjackets build their nests?

Yellowjackets typically build their nests underground or in sheltered areas such as eaves, attics, or within wall voids. They construct their nests from chewed-up cellulose material, creating a paper-like structure. The location of the nest is chosen for its protection from the elements and accessibility to food sources.

Are yellowjackets beneficial or harmful to the environment?

Yellowjackets play a dual role in the ecosystem. They help control pest populations by preying on insects, which can be beneficial for agriculture. However, they can become a nuisance to humans, especially when their nests are near human activity, and their stings can be dangerous to those with allergies.

How should you handle a yellowjacket sting?

If stung by a yellowjacket, it's important to remove the stinger promptly, wash the area with soap and water, and apply a cold pack to reduce swelling. Over-the-counter pain relievers and antihistamines can alleviate discomfort. For those with severe allergies, immediate medical attention is crucial, as stings can lead to anaphylactic shock.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By angieskia — On Aug 25, 2008

if a yellow jacket approaches and starts to follow you what should you do to avoid being stung??

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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