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Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets are a type of predatory wasp. They are generally black and yellow in color, though some may also be black and white or even red. Yellow jackets are easily identified by their markings which are distinctive. They are small insects that are about the same size as a honey bee and they live together with other yellow jackets in colonies. They have a rapid, side to side flight pattern that can also help in identification of these creatures. They go from one side to the other very quickly just before landing. Female yellow jackets are all capable of stinging. Most yellow jackets are about ½ inch long and have stripes of alternating yellow and black on their abdomen.

Though humans dread the sting of a yellow jacket, these small insects are actually predators of other insects. Their presence in the insect food chain is rather important and they are known to get rid of a variety of other insect pests. Worker hornets are regularly mistaken for bees because they have a similar size, shape, and color and both bees and yellow jackets can deliver a nasty sting. The main distinguishing characteristic between bees and yellow jackets is that yellow jackets do not have a dense covering of hair on their bodies. They also do not carry pollen and they don’t have the hairy back legs that honey bees use to carry the pollen from plant to plant.

The yellow jacket stinger is shaped somewhat like a lance with small barbs on it. They will sting repeatedly though sometimes the stinger will become lodged in the skin. The wasp venom is painful, but not harmful unless the person who has been stung has an allergic sensitivity to the venom. Humans who are stung repeatedly many times may also suffer adverse health effects.
Yellow jackets build their nests in trees or shrubs, or any protected place such as inside an attic or hollow walls and flooring. The nests are built from wood fibers that they chew into a paper-like pulp. They are social hunters that live in colonies with workers, drones, and queens. Similar to hornets, their entire colony will die off during the winter with the exception of inseminated queen yellow jackets. The queens will emerge in the warmer late spring or early summer months to select a place to create a new colony.

Queens will begin by building a small paper nest where they can lay their eggs. She may lay between 30 to 50 eggs initially to function as the first generation. The queen will feed and care for the larvae for about 18 to 20 days until they develop into workers. Then, the worker yellow jackets will take over the task of feeding and caring for the larvae. Yellow jackets will feed the larvae chewed up meat or fruit until they emerge as small infertile females that will also function as workers in the colony. The colony then expands as more workers are able to forage for food and care for the young.