Yellow Jackets

Yellow Jacket Extermination for Homes or Businesses

General Information

Yellow jackets comprise a subset of wasps belonging to the family Vespidae and genus Vespula. Although nearly 20 different species of yellow jackets live in North America, only five classify as pests. Of the five pest species, the eastern yellow jacket and the German yellow jacket rank among the types most commonly found in New England.

While all yellow jacket species naturally control the populations of other troublesome insects, the pest varieties are categorized as such because the flying, stinging insects regularly cross paths with humans when scavenging for food. The powerful stings and often aggressive nature of yellow jackets make removal of the insects particularly difficult without the assistance of a pest control professional.

yellow jacket on plant
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Appearance & Identification

What Do Yellow Jackets Look Like?
Aptly named, yellow jackets feature distinctive patterns of yellow and black bands on the abdomen. Three legs extend from each side of the body, while a pair of transparent wings enables the insects to fly.

Shaped like wasps, yellow jackets generally measure about a half-inch in length and also boast a set of antennae extending from the head by the eyes. Unlike bees, which are hairy, yellow jackets and other wasps tend to have smooth bodies.

Habits/Habitat

Social by nature, yellow jackets live together in colonies that house as many as 4,000 workers. A female queen establishes and presides over each colony.

The preferred habitats of the yellow jacket varieties most prevalent in New England depend on the particular species. Eastern yellow jackets typically construct underground nests, often taking over burrows abandoned by other animals, while German yellow jackets generally live aboveground in enclosed areas like:

  • Attics
  • Spaces behind walls
  • Tree stumps

Yellow jacket colonies usually peak in population during late summer and early fall. Often regarded as aggressive insects, yellow jackets actively defend the nest by stinging intruders and other perceived threats.

Diet

What Do Yellow Jackets Eat?
Yellow jackets adhere to a diet largely composed of proteins and sugars. The scavenging insects regularly invade cookouts, dumpsters and trash cans, and other outdoor settings where food sources are readily available.

Yellow jackets frequently take a particular interest in sweets like fruit and soda. The foragers also perform a valuable environmental service by preying on soft-bodied insects such as flies, caterpillars, and other agricultural pests.

Reproduction

Female queens mate in the fall, overwinter, and emerge in the spring to lay eggs and establish a new yellow jacket colony. Each queen lays about 40 to 70 eggs initially. After the first batch hatches into worker yellow jackets, the queen maintains responsibility for continuing to lay eggs while the workers forage for food, expand and defend the colony, and care for the newly hatched larva.

Yellow jacket colonies continue to grow in population over the course of the summer. The insects mate during the fall as the weather turns colder. After mating, females leave the nest to hibernate while males die. With the exception of fertilized, hibernating females, yellow jackets typically do not survive the cold New England winters.

Problems Caused by Yellow Jackets

As territorial creatures that sting when threatened, yellow jackets pose serious problems when the insects construct colonies in areas within close proximity of humans. When yellow jackets sting, they inject a small amount of venom that can cause allergic reactions ranging from slight pain and swelling to wheezing, faintness, and more serious symptoms requiring immediate medical attention.

Unlike bees, which have barbed stingers designed for one-time use, yellow jackets enjoy the ability to sting repeatedly. Furthermore, yellow jacket stings produce odorous chemicals that attract and encourage other yellow jackets to join in on the attack.

Because yellow jackets defend the colony so aggressively, the insects often prove extremely difficult and dangerous to remove. Consult a professional pest control expert to help get rid of the yellow jackets.

Signs of Yellow Jacket Infestation

The strongest indicator of a yellow jacket infestation is the presence of a paper nest. Yellow jackets construct paper nests either underground, behind walls, or hanging from the eaves of attics or the branches of trees. The paper-like quality of the nests comes from the chewed up cellulose yellow jackets use to build the habitations.

When constructed aboveground, yellow jacket nests often resemble the shape of teardrops. Nearby infestations may also produce groups of worker yellow jackets hovering in and around dumpsters and trash cans.

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Prevention

New England residents can prevent yellow jacket infestations by eliminating food sources as much as possible. Homeowners, landlords, and park managers should empty and clean outdoor trash receptacles on a regular basis.

Trash cans in public outdoor spaces should be placed far enough away from picnic areas to minimize encounters with foraging yellow jackets. When not in use, outdoor dumpsters and trash cans should remain covered. In the event of a serious infestation problem, contact a professional pest control specialist to avoid any potential complications resulting from painful, and sometimes dangerous, yellow jacket stings.