What’s a Yellow Jacket? Discovering the Sting of these Flying Insects

Yellow jackets are flying insects that belong to the family of social wasps known as Vespidae. They are small, brightly colored wasps that have black and yellow stripes on their bodies. Yellow jackets are known for their aggressive behavior, and their painful stings make them a nuisance for many people, especially in the summer months when they are most active.

Appearance of Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets are small, slender wasps that measure up to 3/4 inch in length. They have a distinctive black and yellow-striped body, with black antennae and wings. Yellow jackets have a smooth, shiny body and are similar in appearance to honeybees; however, they are more brightly colored, with brighter yellow and white markings.

Habitat of Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets have a wide range of habitats, from forested areas to urban gardens. They are found throughout the United States, except for the Alaskan tundra. Yellow jackets can build nests in a variety of locations, including trees, shrubs, and underground burrows. They can also build nests in man-made structures such as attics and wall voids.

Types of Yellow Jacket Nests

There are two types of yellow jacket nests: aerial and subterranean. Aerial nests are usually found in trees, shrubs, or man-made structures such as buildings or utility poles. Subterranean nests, on the other hand, are constructed underground in burrows or hollow logs.

Life Cycle of Yellow Jackets

The life cycle of yellow jackets begins in the spring, when the queen emerges from hibernation and begins to build a new nest. She lays eggs, which hatch into larvae that are fed by other workers in the colony. As the larvae develop, they spin a silk cocoon and pupate, emerging as adult workers. Workers, in turn, help care for the developing larvae and continue to forage for food to bring back to the colony.

In the late summer or fall, the colony produces new queens and drones, which mate and then the queens overwinter. The rest of the colony dies off as winter approaches.

Behaviors of Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets are highly aggressive and can sting repeatedly. They are attracted to sweet foods and drinks, which often bring them into contact with humans. Yellow jackets will aggressively defend their nests and can become more aggressive when threatened.

Yellow Jackets and Human Interaction

Yellow jackets can be a nuisance and pose a threat to humans, especially those who are allergic to their venom. They can also cause damage to crops and gardens.

Yellow Jacket Stings

Yellow jacket stings can be painful, and some people may experience an allergic reaction to the venom. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include severe swelling, difficulty breathing, and even anaphylactic shock, which can be life-threatening.

If you are stung by a yellow jacket, you can reduce the pain and swelling by applying a cold compress to the affected area. Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can also help to alleviate pain.

Yellow Jackets and Other Insects

Yellow jackets are often confused with honeybees, which are also yellow and black. However, honeybees have more rounded bodies and are not as aggressive as yellow jackets. Other similar-looking insects include hornets and paper wasps, which are also members of the Vespidae family.

Preventing Yellow Jacket Infestation

While it’s not always possible to prevent yellow jackets from building nests in your yard, there are some steps you can take to minimize your risk:

  • Always keep food and drinks covered when outdoors.
  • Dispose of food waste properly and keep trash cans covered.
  • Seal cracks and holes in buildings to prevent yellow jackets from entering.
  • Avoid wearing bright-colored clothing and perfume, which can attract yellow jackets.
  • Use caution when mowing the lawn, as yellow jackets may be nesting in the grass.

Getting Rid of Yellow Jackets

If you have a yellow jacket infestation, it is best to leave their removal to professionals. Attempting to remove a nest yourself can be dangerous and may result in multiple stings.

Professional pest control companies can safely remove yellow jacket nests from your property, using appropriate protective gear and equipment. They can also provide advice on how to prevent future infestations.


Yellow jackets are a common, but often unwelcome visitor in many yards and gardens. While they play an important role in the ecosystem, they can be a nuisance and a danger to humans.

By taking steps to prevent infestations and calling in professionals for removal, you can minimize your risk of yellow jacket stings and ensure the safety of your home and family.


  • Q. Can yellow jackets sting?
  • A. Yes, yellow jackets are known for their painful stings and their aggressive behavior.
  • Q. What should I do if I am stung by a yellow jacket?
  • A. Apply a cold compress to the affected area and take pain relievers to alleviate pain. Seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of an allergic reaction.
  • Q. How can I prevent yellow jacket infestation?
  • A. Always keep food and drinks covered, dispose of food waste properly, seal cracks and holes in buildings, and avoid wearing bright-colored clothing and perfume.
  • Q. Can I remove a yellow jacket nest myself?
  • A. It is best to leave yellow jacket nest removal to professionals, as attempting to remove a nest yourself can be dangerous.


  • “Yellow Jackets and Hornets”. Insects in the City. 2020.
  • “Yellow Jacket Wasp Identification & Control”. Orkin. 2021.
  • “Yellow Jackets”. National Geographic. 2020.

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