Yellow jackets, the tiny warriors of summer

Along with summer come days spent working outside, lounging by the pool, and enjoying picnics and barbeques. It also begins an ancient battle between human and yellow jacket. We know these brightly colored warriors by sight but what do we really know about them? Let us find out, because they say that knowing is half the battle.

Yellow Jacket Traps

Yellow Jacket Traps

Yellow jackets are actually from the same family as wasps and hornets. They live in nests that are made from wood fiber, usually in hollow trees or under roof eaves, and can house thousands of yellow jackets. The yellow jackets does not have the ability to carry pollen, like its distant relatives the honeybee, so it cannot make honey. These insects survive primarily on fruit and plant nectar and insects. Yellow jackets are extremely beneficial to farmers and gardeners because they eat crop-damaging pests like flies and caterpillars. But as the sweet summer fruit begins to disappear, the yellow jackets turn to humans for replacements. They have a sweet tooth so they are attracted to sodas, sweets, and certain kinds of meats.

Each spring, the surviving queen begins to create that year’s nest and lays the eggs of the future workers. These are very social insects and every action and thought is for and about the survival of the colony. The yellow jacket nest population will be at its highest during the summer and will begin to decrease at the beginning of the fall, as all of the workers die off.

These yellow jackets are quite interesting in their design because here we meet another member of the insect world that believes in “girl power”. Only the female yellow jacket can sting. The male has no stinger. Females are equipped with a spear-like stinger that is covered in small barbs. She can sting her prey repeatedly until the stinger gets stuck. If you have ever been stung by one of these, you know they are lightning fast. Every time her stinger penetrates, it releases venom containing over 30 individual components. This venom is not harmful, unless you are allergic, and can cause pain and swelling at the area stung.

Some simple tips and things to remember when you are enjoying time outside or getting some of that yard work done are:

• They are most attracted to dark or flower-patterned clothing. Strong scents like scented deodorant and strong perfumes can lead their noses in your direction.

• When having food outdoors, keep all dishes covered and check drinks before drinking.

• Keep all trash cans tightly sealed.

• Keep an eye out for nests when mowing for nests in the ground.Y ellow jackets are extremely defensive of their home.

• Do not swat at them. Stand very still until the yellow jacket leaves. They will sting when aggravated and may call friends.

Although yellow jackets can seem like a nuisance or a threat to your outdoor fun, they are really not different from us. They are just trying to survive in this world by gathering food and defending themselves and their colony. They are not going to change so it is up to us to figure out how to live in harmony.

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3 thoughts on “Yellow jackets, the tiny warriors of summer

  1. Yellow Jackets, One mean little bug, They have caused me to hurt myself just getting away from them, not many people can just stand there till they leave, and loose interest in you, God made me fast, not tolerant of pain.

  2. Dear Rachel,

    I really enjoyed your article on yellow jackets. I searched the internet for some information on them. I’ve been watching their numbers multiply at an in ground nest in my front yard, and every day there are more coming in and out. It’s kind of neat to watch them “come in for the night.” I’ve been struggling all summer with the decision of what to do. All my neighbors are saying, “kill them, pour gasoline in there,” etc. First, I would never “pour gasoline” in there. And secondly, I just want them to live their lives. I enjoyed reading your article on what they eat, how many can be in a nest, just their behavior and habits in general. My roommate has learned that if she mows near dark, they have no objections to the mower. She’s only been stung once, on the pinky finger during the day before she began mowing late in the day, when a clump of grass from the mower landed almost on the entrance to their home. Thank you for a great education on this little member of the wasp family. Andrea

  3. Andrea,

    I’ve heard that, unlike honey bees, yellow jackets don’t keep the same hive location from year to year. So you might get lucky and they’ll move off to greener pastures in 2010.