Characteristics of a Yellow Jacket Wasp

Written by kimberly hawthorne
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Characteristics of a Yellow Jacket Wasp
Yellow jacket wasps are extremely aggressive. (John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images)

The yellow jacket, or common wasp, is a frequent visitor at picnics, campsites and garbage containers. If you have an open soda can outdoors, it is likely they will find it. It is common to hear about stings on the lips, throat or tongue when drinking from a soda can. An estimated 2.4 million people in the U.S. are allergic to yellow jacket wasps, as well as bees.

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Physical

The yellow jacket wasp ranges in size from 1/2-inch to 5/8-inch in length. Its colours are yellow and black with a tiny bit of white on some. This tiny wasp has six legs, a furry head and a stinger on the tip of its back end. This little insect closely resembles a hornet but has a much larger head and noticeably long antenna.

Life Cycle

Yellow jacket wasps live along the edges of forests or lines of trees and make their hives of chewed-up wood fibres and saliva, on the ground and up to 10-feet high. A pregnant female begins constructing her hive in the spring. The only purpose of a male yellow jacket wasp is to mate and help protect the nest. As winter nears, males die off and all pregnant females hibernate for the winter. Female yellow jacket wasps hibernate under loose bark, in rotted logs and under lap siding; they do not reuse old nests. You will find this tiny breed in all 48 continental U.S. states.

Diet

This insect's diet consists of nectar. Adult females chew insects to feed their larvae. Females stop laying eggs in late summer and autumn; it is at this time they become more aggressive in searching for food near humans. With fewer flowers, nectar becomes harder to find and wasps become weak. To build-up their strength for winter, females forage around trash receptacles for carbohydrates.

Temperament

Yellow jacket wasps are extremely aggressive and easily provoked, especially females. Both males and females will sting repeatedly; swatting at them provokes them to attack. In some areas of the U.S., large colonies of yellow jacket wasps swarm and attack humans, leaving the victim with thousands of stings.

Control

One method of controlling the yellow jacket population is to trap the queens when they first emerge in spring. Once the queen emerges, they wait 30 to 45 days before constructing their nest. One lure or water trap per acre is usually sufficient. Add more traps in the fall to trap scavenging yellow jackets. Call a professional to knock down completed nests during summer months.

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