Yellow jackets are banded yellow, or orange, and black and are commonly mistake for honey bees. They are social wasps living in colonies containing workers, queens and males. They can be roughly 2 to ¾ inch long or longer depending on the variety. There are at least 14 different varieties of yellow jackets in New England.
Yellow jackets can nest anywhere! They can build in the ground in a bush, exteriorly on a house, in the eaves, in soffit piece, in a tree, in railroad ties and the list goes on.
An average sized yellow jacket nest can reach 4000 – 6000 by the end of the summer. Each insect with the potential of multiple stings.
Yellow jackets are scavengers. They eat road kill, trash, bugs on trees, and even your hamburger at the family picnic.
Nests are seasonal. They are gray paper in nature with a condo structure inside covered by a papery substance for added protection. They form their nest by scraping old or weathered wood and secreting this substance back at their next site.
Yellow jackets will attack people and animals when unprovoked. A yellow jacket sting can be very painful. They can damage fruit when they create holes by eating the flesh.
They are beneficial, however, because of the scavenger nature. They do eat common insects such as flies and caterpillars.
If a yellow jacket lands on you remain calm and wait for it to fly away or gently brush it off. Otherwise you run the risk of getting stung. Seek medical attention if the reaction to a sting includes swelling, itching, dizziness and/or shortness of breath.
Nest removal can be dangerous and professional help is recommended. The risk of attack is great. If you can have the nest removed early in the season it is safer than waiting till fall when the nest size can be as large as a basketball or larger.
Have the ability to fly rapidly.
Just before Winter the queen mates and finds a suitable place to hibernate. (Attic insulation, wood pile, etc) During the Spring the multiple new queens that were produced last fall will come out of dormancy, begin feeding and searching for a new nest location site to begin her new colony. Once she finds a place to call home she begins building her nest. As she produces workers and the colony becomes large, the sole responsibility of the queen is to reproduce and the workers begin hive maintenance. There is nothing but brood comb stored in their nest. (No honey).
They can cause structural damage to a home when they construct nests in walls or attics.
Control at home is to keep trash and garbage in sealed containers away from the house. Clean up decayed wood, trees and brush. Paint any unfinished wood or stain it. Maintain and reseal treated wood every 2 years. Keep bark mulch fresh. Avoid areas of standing water in your yard. Avoid wearing perfumes or hairsprays and keep all food and drinks covered when outdoors.
In the fall yellow jackets will search for food and warmth, often making their way inside your home if there is a wall or ceiling nest. They can become a health threat
Never spray insecticide into a hole in your house where you see yellow jacket activity. You will drive them further into the framework of the house. Also never seal up (from the outside) the yellow jackets entrance while they are still alive. Again, you will drive them into the framework of the home and find them in rooms of the house. Seek professional help with all wall and ceiling nests.
In the late summer, and in the fall yellow jacket nests that occupy ceilings and walls of homes can become very heavy. Hive work is vigorous and workers continue to clean up. During this cleaning process they often scrape away wallboard and plaster that make up our walls and ceilings. Some homeowners will begin to see a wet stain on their wall, hear scratching and clicking in their ceiling and often (sometimes too late if they don’t heed early warning signs) find an entire colony fall through the ceiling into their living room, bedroom or other rooms of their home. THIS IS AN EMERGENCY SITUATION. SEEK A PROFESSIONAL TO ASSIS YOU IF THIS OCCURS.
FOR EVERY QUEEN THAT IS KILLED AND EVERY NEST THAT IS ERADICATED DURING A SEASON, IT MEANS THAT THERE WILL BE 500 – 5000 FEWER YELLOW JACKETS IN THE AREA!!