Yellow Jacket – Wasp
Name & Identification
Yellowjacket, yellow-jacket and European wasp are names given to black and yellow wasps of the genus Vespula or Dolichovespula (some can be black-and-white, the most notable of these being the bald-faced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata; others may have red markings). They can be identified by their distinctive combination of black-and-yellow color, small size (slightly larger than a bee), entirely black antennae, and characteristic, rapid, side to side flight pattern prior to landing. They are often mistakenly called “bees.” Yellowjacket is the name for these insects in North American English; elsewhere they are simply called “wasps” or “European wasps”.
Like all other vespines, they live in colonies, and build paper nests. Workers are around 12–20 mm in length, depending on species, and feed on nectar, while collecting other foods (primarily arthropods) for their larvae. They can sting repeatedly, especially when trapped in clothing, because their stingers don’t have barbs. They will sometimes sting with little provocation, and so can be major pests, though they sting primarily in order to defend their nest. In autumn, they switch from collecting arthropods and nectar to scavenging other food sources, which can increase their contact with people.
European yellowjackets (the German wasp, Vespula germanica and the common wasp, Vespula vulgaris) were originally native to Europe, but are now established in North America, southern Africa, New Zealand, and eastern Australia.
Bald-faced hornets, Dolichovespula maculata, belong among the yellowjackets rather than the true hornets, but are not usually considered yellowjackets because of their ivory-on-black coloration.
The more you are stung by a yellow jacket the more intense your reaction becomes. You do not build up an immunity to their venom over time. Your physical reaction to their bite will become more severe year after year if you are regularly stung by yellow jackets.
Dolichovespula species (for example the aerial yellowjacket Dolichovespula arenaria and the bald-faced hornet, Dolichovespula maculata) tend to create exposed aerial nests (a feature shared with true hornets, which has led to some confusion as to the use of the name “hornet”).
Vespula species, in contrast, build concealed nests, usually underground.
Yellowjacket nests usually last for only one season, dying off in winter. The nest is started by a single queen, called the foundress. The nest typically can reach the size of a basketball by the end of the season