Learn about Utah Yellow Jackets
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Yellow Jackets are not bees; they are part of the Vespidae family. The Vespid wasp family includes Yellow Jackets, Paper Wasps, and Hornets. Adults are smooth with yellow and black bands of color. The queen is about 3/4˝ long, and the workers are about 1/2˝ long. In general, Yellow Jackets are stout, big-bodied wasps. Yellow Jackets can be easily distinguished from bees because they have relatively few body hairs and a distinct waist. Compared to honey bees, yellow jackets are sparsely haired. Wings are folded lengthwise, similar to Paper Wasps and Hornets.
Yellow Jackets are social insects living in colonies of hundreds to thousands. Yellow Jackets will chew wood fiber, such as wood fencing, into a pulp to build their nest. Queens prefer to build underground nests and will take advantage of abandoned rodent burrows. They will also start nests in wall voids or empty roof space.
Yellow Jackets are scavengers and feed on various insects, fruits, meats, sweets, flies, and caterpillars. Adults are highly attracted to the sugar in fruits, soda cans, and candy and will seek out items rich in carbohydrates. Adults will seek protein to return to the nest and feed growing larvae.
Life Cycle & Reproduction
The queen will lay a few dozen eggs and nurture them until they mature. After the first dozen workers develop, the queen will specialize in egg production to expand the colony. The queen only cares for the first brood and then depends on the workers to build new paper cells and search for food. The workers will care for the larvae and pupae (immature wasps) and feed and care for the queen. During the summer months, the workers will reach their peak population.
Colonies can quickly build up to over 10,000 members in just one summer. The males and workers die off, and the fertilized queen seeks a place to hibernate through winter. Queens survive the winter in sheltered locations like buildings or outdoors under bark, stones, loose leaves, or another shelter. In the spring, the cycle begins again.
Like other social wasps, yellow jackets vigorously defend their nest against threats, such as people who get too close to the nest entrance. Hundreds or thousands of wasps can quickly emerge from a nest and attack people or animals that venture too close. Guard wasps stationed near nest entrances use chemical communication to warn the colony of intruders.
Yellow Jackets tend to be more aggressive than other social wasps or bees. Adults will defend the colony without much provocation and sting if threatened. Yellow jackets are incredibly aggressive during the day when searching for food. Yellow jackets can sting repeatedly. Stings typically cause localized pain and swelling, but in sensitive individuals or when many stings occur (as with most arthropod stings), whole-body (systemic) effects can occur, including allergic reactions that may result in death. Click here to learn about Yellow Jacket Removal.