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Yellowjacket Wasp (Vespidae) Control

- Social Vespids -

Summary: Yellowjacket wasps are social insects that live in large colonies organized by a queen wasp. All worker yellowjackets are daughters of the queen. Colonies, and nests, usually start in the spring, grow through summer then die off in the fall. Colonies are most dangerous in late summer and early fall when they are at peak size.

Jack DeAngelis, PhD
OSU Ext. Entomologist (ret.)

Help for dangerous or threatening yellowjacket wasp nests to reduce the potential for stings from these insects.

Wasp identification

Yellowjacket wasps are medium size (~1/2") distinctive black and yellow insects (see photo right), some species such as the misnamed "baldfaced hornet", however, are white strips over a black body color. Yellowjackets make a relatively large nest that is completely enclosed in a papery envelope. Paper wasps, on the other hand, make an open nest in which the individual cells are clearly visible (see The European Paper Wasp).

male yellowjacket wasp

yellowjacket, or social, wasp

Common misspellings and misnomers for yellowjackets: yellow jackets, bees, hornets, ground hornets, garbage bees


Yellowjacket wasps (Vespula spp.) are sometimes called simply "wasps", "social wasps" or "social vespids". The common names we use for wasps can be very confusing. The social wasps that cause problems for people worldwide are discussed below. These wasps make large, papery nests either below ground or above ground. Some species have adopted a scavenger habit that brings them into contact with people that makes them even more dangerous.

There are many species of yellowjackets but most people only encounter the scavenger species. Scavenger species feed on both living and non-living prey so are drawn to any food within their search area such as a dead animal, tree fruit, or our picnic food. These species also tend to build larger and more threatening nests. Some social wasps, on the other hand, are predators, seeking only live prey, and therefore have no interest in our picnic food or fruit trees (see What Are Scavenger Yellowjackets?).



Yellowjacket colony life

Yellowjacket wasps live in large colonies dominated by a queen. Colonies start in the spring when the queen emerges from winter dormancy. Once she rears a few workers the queen no longer leaves the nest. Colonies grow throughout summer, reach maximum size by fall then begin to decline. Most nests die out before winter. Only mated queens survive until the following spring.

Colonies become aggressive in late summer

Wasps can be particularly aggressive in late summer when they reach maximum size. This aggression is generally associated with colony defense but wasp stings can occur away from the nest as well. If you get stung, get moving! When yellowjackets sting they may leave behind a small amount of chemical marker that identifies you as an enemy of the nest. For this reason you should quickly leave the area after being stung before other wasps have a chance to swarm.

Yellowjacket wasp control

In late summer/early fall it may be necessary to control wasp nests that threaten outdoor activities such as gardening or picnicking. While some wasp traps can be used to temporarily displace worker activity the best approach is to control individual wasp nests.

See:

Wasp Control Baits & Chemicals Available Here (DoMyOwnPestControl)

Related Articles

How to Use Wasp Traps

How Do Wasps Sting?

How are Wasps Named?

Frequently Asked Questions


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Jack DeAngelis, PhD,  , email:  [email protected]

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