Yellow Jacket Wasp

Western Yellow Jacket Wasp, Vancouver Island, BC
Western Yellow Jacket Wasp, Vancouver Island, BC, photo by Bud Logan

Yellow jacket wasps can generate fear in people when they are seen hovering around a garden or an outdoor activity. This is particularly true of people who have previously experienced a sting. Outdoor picnics are usually visited by yellow jackets because of their attraction to the various foods there. Stings often occur when people or animals disturb wasps while they are hunting for food or protecting the nest.

Yellow jacket wasps live in nests. Problems usually occur when the wasp or its nest is disturbed.  A hollow stinger is located at the rear of the yellow jacket’s body. They use this to inject venom. These stings can be very painful. They can also be very dangerous to people who have an allergy to the stings and unlike the bee, a yellow jacket can sting you more than once. They can also damage fruit when they create holes by eating the flesh.

Just before winter, the queen wasp will mate and then find a suitable place to overwinter. She is the only one of the hive to do this, all the other wasps die. When spring arrives, the queen will emerge and begin feeding and searches for a nest site to begin her new hive. Sometimes nests can be found in the ground, other times it is under an eve or in a woodpile and sometimes in the branches of trees. Once a location is found, she begins construction of the nest. The nest is made with a paper-like material gathered from decaying wood and fibers mixed with saliva.

The queen lays her eggs and protects them until the larvae emerge. The larvae are fed until they pupate. Adults emerge from the pupal cases approximately three weeks later. Sterile female workers, the first adults to emerge, take over most of the duties of the queen. As a hive becomes larger, the sole responsibility of the queen is to reproduce. Thus, the hive can become very large by late summer. It is during this time that the overwintering queens are produced.

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