What are Yellowjackets?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

A yellowjacket.
A yellowjacket.

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.

Honeybees are sometimes confused with yellowjackets.
Honeybees are sometimes confused with yellowjackets.

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.

Yellowjackets are fond of building large nests in places that are difficult for humans to get to.
Yellowjackets are fond of building large nests in places that are difficult for humans to get to.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

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Discussion Comments

angieskia

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

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