Yellow Jacket


Common Name: Wasp
Scientific Name:Vespula vulgaris
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Hymenoptera
Family: Vespidae

Morphologyexternal image Yellowjacket_bw.GIF

Physical Appearance- Yellow Jackets, which are a type of wasp have six legs, two antennas, four wings,
and range between sizes of 1/2 an inch to 3/4 of an inch. The "queen" is uaually larger in size. Located at
the front of the yellow jacket are the two antennas, usually always back. Some occurances appear to have a
red-orange like color. The wings are clear with veins running through them. They are also transparent meaning they transmit light and are reflectant of light. When the wasp is not moving the wings are stationed along the side of the abdomen. At the very rear end of the wasp, the stinger is located. The stinger is lance-like and sting repeatedly. The head is small which leads to a narrow waist and the thorax and abdomen maked with alternating stripes of black and yellow. Yellow jackets do not have any hair on their abdomen or thorax,
unlike bees. Through out a yellow jacket's life it goes through four stages. Each one has a different physical appearance.
Eggs- The eggs are milky white and typically "sausage-shaped." They are about 1 to 2 mm in length.

Larva- The legless larva is creamy white and ranges from slightly larger than the egg at hatching to near adult size at maturity. The first three instars are fixed to the cell wall. The last two instars are able to move about within the cell.

Puppa- The pupa resembles a mummified adult. It is the same length as the adult.

Distinguishing Characteristicts- Yellow jackets are commonly mistaken for bees or hornets. They closely resemble hornets, but can be told apart by the much bigger size of their head. Other distinguishing physical
characteristics of yellow jackets include their noticeable antenna, dark eyes and wings that are folded onto
themselves when the wasp is not flying. Yellow jackets lack the hairy legs like other bees that carry honey.
All species of wasps include a yellow or white face. Their mouthparts are usually well-developed with strong mandibles for capturing and chewing insects, with a proboscis for sucking nectar, fruit, and other juices. The yellow jackets' closest relative is the hornet. They both closely resemble each other but wasps have a much bigger head, seenespecially in the large distance from the eyes to the back of the head. Yellow Jacket wasps are unlike other species like them because of their aggressive behavior. They will attack anyone or anything that invades their space. They have smooth stingers, so they can sting over and over again. Their stings also carry venom that makes the stings hurt, itch or swell for about 24 hours. Humans are at the risk of allergic reactions from the sting.


Wasps live in the nests that their colony has built with the Queen as the head of the colony. It is destoryed when the queen leaves to start another colony and the remaining wasps die. They prefer to nest near humans live, but the location needs to be shealterd and have access to the outdoors. They build their nests in a variety of places, often choosing sunny spots like, underground, along banks, attached to walls, in trees and shrubs, under the floor and eaves of houses. Wasps do not go in and out of their nest during times of high light intenisty. During dawn or duck the low light helps highlight their flight path. Many social wasps produce paper pulp nests on trees, in attics, holes in the ground or other such sheltered areas. By contrast solitary wasps are generally parasitic or predatory and only the latter build nests at all.
external image nest.jpg

Nests- Yellow jacket nests usually last for only one season, dying off in winter. The nest is started by a single queen, called the "foundress". Typically, a nest can reach the size of a basketball by the end of a season. Yellow jackets are social wasps who use wood pulp to construct their nests. In order to construct their nest the wasps go through a process. A wasp collects wood fiber by using its mandibles to scrape it from worn and weathered wooden fences, buildings, telephone poles, and other sources. Sometimes it collects fiber from man-made paper products such as paper bags or cardboard boxes. The insect then chews the wood and mixes it with saliva. This makes the wood fiber extremely soft and moist. After a period of chewing, the wasp adds the paste to the nest structure and spreads it out with her mandibles and legs. After it thoroughly dries; a type of tough, durable paper is formed.

Geographic Range

Yellow jacket wasps are a problem to some. Nests are located in a variety of place usually the is crowded with people, because that is the type of place that they like to make their nests. The common yellow jacket is located in many places through out the Unites States. The map below displays the areas in the United States with high numbers of yellow jackets. Based on the map below, it is clear that the south east is very high in the common yellow jacket population. It is also clear that the north east is lacking high amounts of yellow jackets.

Mating Behavior

Mating between wasps takes place with a fertile queen and male wasp. Occasionally the queen can be fertilized with the
sperm of several males instead of just one. Wasps do not mate while flying like bees. Instead they chose stationary
mating. When the queen and the male successfully complete the mating process, the male wasps' sperm cells are packaged
with in firmly packed ball inside the queen. Those cells are not used for a while. In other words, they are dormant in the
queen wasp until the spring comes and they are needed. For most wasp colonies, things die off around autumn. The only
thing left behind is the queen wasps who have mated young. When winter cycles around, they must find a place to hibernate.
After this there are three stages that the queen wasps go through before the eggs hatch. The queen usually runs out of stored
sperm by the end of the Summer or early Fall, at which time she must find another male to mate with.

Stage One - When early summer comes, right after the queens hibernate for the winter, the young queens search for a suitable site to being a new nesting community. When the queen finds the new place for the nest, she starts the construction of a basic wood fiber nest that is usually about the size of a walnut. At the end of the first stage the eggs being to be laid with in the new small nest.

Stage Two - To being the second stage, the queen uses the stored sperm, that was also kept dormant to being the fertilization of the eggs she just previously laid. As a result of the queen wasp storing the sperm, it allows an abundance of fertilized eggs to be laid with out the need for repeated mating. This process also allows the queen to create and grow a full colony all on her own. As the eggs mature and the females develop into workers, they become capable of assisting the queen in the nest, as they make it larger. As more of the eggs hatch the female workers have to expand the nest and make it more elaborate, in order to fit all of the yellow jackets.

Stage Three - By the time the third stage comes around, the size of the nest has grow a considerable amount and contains numbers between several hundred and several thousand yellow jackets. At the time the queen starts to run low on sperm to continue to fertilize. She reaches this point toward the end of the summer. The left over eggs develop into fertile males and fertile female queens. The mature males proceed to the point where they then fly out of the nest and find a queen to mate with, continuing the wasp life cycle yet another time . The newly matured young queens will then leave the colony to hibernate for the winter. Generally, young queens and drones from the same nest do not mate with each other; this ensures more genetic variation within wasp populations.


Life Cycle

A yellow jacket's life beings in the egg form. The eggs are laid in the new nest that the queen makes.
They can not hatch until the sperm fertilizes them, and they are matured. The eggs soon turn into a larva, that is till located in the nest, that has grown in size. When the eggs hatch, they are legless grubs. That gives the larva the ability to move around or shake in position. However, they stay stationary and do not leave the section that they were from the time their egg was laid. In the early spring, the queen will care for the larva, and after the first group of larva has become adults, these workers will then care for the new larva. The nest stage is the pupa. At this point the pupa is very close to become a mature adult, and appears in a mummified version of an adult. When the pupa is matured it is ready to enter the life a male or female yellow jacket. If it is female it will assume the roles of a worker bee. They will generally spend their life time maintaing the nest, and assuring the quality of the wasps with in it. Female workers also pollinate and collect nectar. Through out their life time due to their aggressive nature the wasps will sting any threatening creatures that it comes in contact with. Creatures like ourselves, humans. Male wasps are harmless and can not sting. When the end of summer comes back around most of the nest will die off and the new queens will leave the nest to find males to mate with to start their own colony.

Feeding Habits idbee_yellow_jacket.png

Yellow jacket eat a variety of things. Depending on where they are in their life cycle they will eat different things. Where they live is another factor as to what yellow jackets will eat. As a result of these wasps being social wasps they can feed off of fallen fruit, nectar, and carrion. Yellow jackets may also scavenge for dead insects to provide for their young, or the not fully matured wasps that can not leave the nest to get their own food. Within the nest, with lack of other food sometimes the larvae provide sweet secretions that are fed to the adults. The larvae provide large quantities of protein for the adults. In most cases that is the reason why yellow jackets would eat their own kind. By the adult yellow jackets feeding off of the larvae it kills the majority of them.
Another way that yellow jackets feed is off of carbohydrates that are obtained from nectar, honeydew secreted by aphids, scale insects and other insects, and from various fruits. Yellow jackets are one of the few wasps that will eat human food. They enjoy the sweets and meats from humans. Unlike bees, wasps do not make honey so they have to find food in other ways. When they must leave the nest to find food, it is rare for them to travel further then one mile away from the nest. In order to consume the food that they find, yellow jackets use their strong and sturdy mandibles to reduce the size of their food. The mandibles are similar to a jaw and act much like one.

Ecological Role

yellow-jackets.jpgAll insect play some sort of role in the environment, wether it be good or bad. The role of yellow jackets is similar to other insects. These wasps do a few different things within the ecosystem to play a positive part. Sadly, yellow jackets are not known as good or important insects to the environment. They are an aggressive species of wasp and have earned themselves a bad reputation for stinging humans. However, most people are unaware of a yellow jackets role in the environment and how much they help. These wasps often kill or scavenge insects and other protein-rich foods to feed their young and themselves. Yellow jackets usually feed on dead insect that lie within spider webs or simple dead insects that may be but lying on the ground. The insects that they kill are numerous of the ones that are regarded as pests. In some cases, yellow jackets will feed on dead animals too, since they will head meat. So, really yellow jackets are acting as a natural pesticide for the environment. Another way yellow jacket wasps benefit the environment is on farm helping farmers and the animals that live there. Yellow jackets assist the health of farm when they control the number of flies on it. When there is high number of harmful flies on a farm it can effect the crops and the animals. Yellow jackets are one of the insects that maintain an appropriate number of flies within farms. Wasps also eat rotting fruit such as apples and act as one of nature's cleaners. Wasps are not always aggressive, but they are territorial. And they sometimes are aggressive
after eating fermented fruit, which has an inebriating effect on them.

As well as having a positive effect on nature, yellow jackets can often have a negative effect on human. Obviously, their unwanted sting. This insect builds their nest in places around humans and often in humans ways. For example, many children's swing and play sets are made of wood, an attractive place to a queen wasp looking for a nesting site. Due to their aggressive nature it is very likely that children playing in that area could get stung. This is how yellow jackets have earned a bad reputation. When wasps nests reach a large size they could in times pose a problem for the area that the nest is in.


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