Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket)

Last updated: January 16, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Henrik Larsson/

Yellowjacket stings account for the majority of deaths from wasp stings


Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket) Scientific Classification

Vespula or Dolichovespula

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket) Conservation Status

Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket) Locations

Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket) Locations

Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket) Facts

Caterpillars, little spiders, and bees
Group Behavior
  • Colony
  • Social
Fun Fact
Yellowjacket stings account for the majority of deaths from wasp stings
Most Distinctive Feature
Distinct yellow and black-banded colors
Distinctive Feature
Hard and glossy body with no hairs
Paper-like nests in or near buildings, hollow spaces of decaying logs, attics, or roofs.
Insectivorous mammals such as raccoons
  • Colony
  • Social
Favorite Food
Nectar and honeydew
Common Name
Special Features
Yellowjackets have long, dark wings
Number Of Species

Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket) Physical Characteristics

  • Yellow
  • Black
  • White
  • Multi-colored
Skin Type
12–22 days
0.47–0.75 inches

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Yellowjacket stings account for the majority of deaths from wasp stings


The hardy wasps, occasionally mistaken for bees and hornets, have many fascinating traits. Yellowjackets are characterized by their vivid black and yellow stripes. They are scavengers and carnivores known to feed on other insects and arachnids. With venom stings potent enough to kill a person, yellowjackets are aggressive and have been known to erupt with an angry swarm when their colony is disturbed. 

Yellowjacket — Species, Types, and Scientific Name

Yellowjacket is the common name for any member of the Vespula and Dolichovespula wasp genera. They are a member of a large order of insects known as Hymenoptera. The order includes others like wasps, sawflies, bees, and ants. There are more than 13,800 confirmed species in this order, and it is the third most diverse animal group. 

Yellowjacket (sometimes written as yellow jacket) is a common name only used for this species in North America. In other English-speaking countries, members of this genus are simply referred to as wasps. Specific species may also have other common names assigned to them, such as European wasps, Southern yellowjacket, Black-faced hornets, and so on. There are more than 17 yellowjacket species in North America out of 30 to 40 identified species worldwide. Some of the most common species are:

  • Western yellowjacket — Vespula pensylvanica  
  •  German yellowjacket — Vespula germanica
  •  Southern yellowjacket — Vespula squamosa
  •  Eastern yellowjacket — Vespula maculifrons
  • Aerial yellowjacket — Dolichovespula arenaria

Appearance — How To Identify Yellowjackets

Yellow Jacket vs. Paper Wasp - Yellow Jacket Isolated

The insect’s common name, yellowjacket, refers to the unique yellow and black coloration of the abdomen of many members of this group.


The insect’s common name, yellowjacket, refers to the unique yellow and black coloration of the abdomen of many members of this group. Despite the name, not all species of yellowjackets have this appearance. Some species have black and white coloration, while others are marked red.

Yellowjackets are often mistaken for bees due to the similarities in their coloring. However, they do not have hairs like bees do. Instead, they have hard, glossy bodies with long, dark wings. The queen can grow to a maximum length of about 0.75 inches, while workers average about 0.47 inches. 

Despite their similarities to bees in size and appearance, yellowjackets are actually wasps. The major difference between this group of wasps and other wasps is that they tend to fold their wings longitudinally when resting. Yellowjacket wasps have six legs, a tiny waist, and stingers on their abdomen.

Social Structure & Appearance

Yellowjackets are social insects that live in colonies and have a caste system that comprises a queen, drones (non-reproducing females), and workers. Each worker and queen has a specific role-play in maintaining the colony. The primary responsibility of the male is to be ready to mate with a receptive queen. Workers have a black mark behind their eyes on one side of the skull. They also have black dots that form rings on their abdomen. 

Queens are larger than workers, particularly in the length of their abdomen. Male yellowjackets have longer antennae and an aedeagus (male arthropod genital) that can only be seen under a microscope. The two genera of this group of wasps have differing nesting behaviors. While the Dolichovespula species tend to build exposed nests, the Vespula species hide their nests underground and in other protected areas. Yellowjacket colonies can have between a few hundred and a few thousand workers, depending on the species.

Habitat — Where To Find Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets are widespread worldwide but are especially numerous in the Southeastern United States and other parts of North America. You may also find them in Europe, Northern Africa, and East Asia. Some species in this family have been exported out of their natural habitat. 

The yellowjacket colony is typically housed in a nest built by a single queen (the foundress). Every year, especially in the spring, the queen constructs a nest. The nest size tends to vary from one species to the other. The nest typically ranges from a few centimeters to several meters.

Yellowjacket nests are spherical with a paper-like texture. They’re constructed from a mixture of chewed-up plant or wood fibers and saliva. The nest comprises several layers of paper cells that resemble the honeybee’s comb. 

Nesting location varies from one species of yellowjacket to the other. Some species construct their nests in or near buildings. They may use the hollow spaces of decaying logs or building walls, attics, or roofs. Others tend to make their nests in or around old underground burrows. 

Dolichovespula nests are usually built above ground, fastened to bushes, or suspended from trees. Birds searching for food often destroy abandoned nests tied to trees. Flooding or human activities often damage underground nests built by the Vespula genus. Typically, abandoned nests crumble and decay but are occasionally reclaimed by another queen.

Evolution and History

There are many questions about the origin and evolution of the yellowjacket that science is yet to answer. However, if there’s anything we do know to a relatively good degree of accuracy, it’s that they probably evolved from the snakeflies. 

All insects that exhibit complete metamorphosis are classified collectively as Holometabolans. The group includes beetles, butterflies, true flies, and wasps. However, from molecular evidence, scientists now know that the Hymenopteran lineage (which includes the wasps and bees) branched off this common holometabola stem long before the others evolved. 

Generally, flying insects are grouped into two infraclasses known as Palaeoptera and Neoptera (lacewings). The Paleoptera group are insects that cannot fold their wings over their back, while the Neoptera group are insects that can fold their wings over their backs. 

The recent discovery of a 260 to 270 million years old fossil shows that the modern wasps evolved from the lacewing (neuropteroid) branch of the insect family, with an origin that dates as far back as the Late Permian. The wasps themselves evolved during the Jurassic and diversified into the species and families we know today. Wasps evolved first, and the bees evolved from predatory wasp species about 120 million years ago.

Diet — What Do Yellowjackets Eat and What Eats Them?

Most yellowjacket species are carnivorous. However, some of them are omnivorous to some degree. Some yellowjacket species solely capture live prey. Others, particularly some Vespula species, such as the eastern yellowjacket, scavenge. These scavengers are typically the species that fly around at outdoor events when food or drink cans are present.

What Do Yellowjackets Eat?

Many species of yellowjackets are active predators. Like other predatory wasps, they use their mandibles to catch prey, frequently destroying their wings and legs to prevent escape. Yellowjacket workers are most active in the early morning and midday. They typically forage within a few hundred meters of the nest.

Common wasp colonies gather food high in carbohydrates and proteins. Nectar and honeydew are significant food sources for them. Dead insects, caterpillars, little spiders, and bees also attract Vespula wasps. Workers ingest fruit juice from ripe or damaged fruits as food.

What Eats Yellowjackets?

Most yellowjackets’ predators are mammals that are much bigger than wasps, like skunks, black bears, and raccoons. In Georgia and Indiana, raccoons have been identified as the top yellowjackets predators. Bears are the most likely big mammals in the United States to regularly predate yellowjackets.

Prevention — How To Get Rid Of Yellowjackets

All female yellowjackets have stingers, and they can become aggressive in the fall when less food is available. If you have never been stung or allergic to wasp venom, it is best to avoid yellowjackets.

Most of the sting-related fatalities in the US are caused by the toxic venom of yellowjackets. The wasp can repeatedly sting, unlike bees which can only sting once before dying. If you find a wasp colony, It is best to get rid of it as soon as possible. You should also get rid of queen wasps as soon as they emerge in the spring to look for a new nesting location.

Once you have located the nest, you should keep an eye out for the entrance and take care not to spook them since they can sting you as a consequence. It is best to get help from an expert instead of trying to get rid of the colony yourself. The best time to remove a nest is early morning or night before sunset. They’re less aggressive, slow, and less likely to attack. The nest should be sprayed from at least 20 feet away using a wasp or hornet jet spray can. The insecticide spray rapidly kills yellowjackets.

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About the Author

Abdulmumin is a pharmacist and a top-rated content writer who can pretty much write on anything that can be researched on the internet. However, he particularly enjoys writing about animals, nature, and health. He loves animals, especially horses, and would love to have one someday.

Yellowjacket (Yellow Jacket) FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Are yellowjackets dangerous?

Yellowjackets are dangerous and aggressive stingers. Their sting contains a toxic venom that can potentially kill a human that is allergic to it.


How many legs do yellowjackets have?

Like other insects, yellowjacket wasps have six legs.


How do you identify yellowjackets?

Yellowjackets look like bees or hornets. They are black with distinctive yellow stripes and long black wings. However, unlike bees, they do not have hairs on their body. Instead, they have a hard and shiny exoskeleton. They are often seen in groups and tend to be quite aggressive.  


How do you get rid of yellowjackets?  

You can get rid of yellowjackets using commercial or homemade traps, wasp insecticide spray, or powder. However, it is best to call professional pest control management since yellowjackets are dangerous. 


What triggers yellowjackets?

Yellowjackets do not like to be disturbed. Stepping on their underground nests, or hitting their nests attached to a tree can make them sting you.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.


  1. / Accessed January 15, 2023
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