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Top 10 Pests: Yellowjacket

aerial yellowjacket worker
A worker of one of the many species of yellowjacket

Photo © Jim Kalisch, Department of Entomology,
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Scientific Name:
Vespula spp. and Dolichovespula spp.
Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps)
U.S. Distribution:
All states; various species. The most common yellowjacket pests are: common yellowjacket (Vespula vulgaris)--most of the U.S.; eastern yellowjacket (V. maculifrons)--east of the Rocky Mountains; German yellowjacket (V. germanica)--northeast, central, and west coast; western yellowjacket (V. pensylvanica)--west, northern mountain, Hawaii; southern yellowjacket (V. squamosa)--eastern (south of NY), north central, gulf, southeast; aerial yelowjacket (Dolichovespula arenaria)--Alaska to southern California, southwest, and central and northern part of east coast.



This page has three tables, (1) Identification, (2) Look-alike Pests, and (3) Biology and Habits.


Match the Shape and Size Match the Color
Line drawing showing shape of yellowjacket
pair of yellowjackets
  • Worker is 3/8-5/8 inch long (10-16 mm)
  • Tiny waist
  • Appears hairless (although there are some small, fine hairs present)
  • Wings (4) clear and folded at rest
  • Stinger present at tip of abdomen
  • Yellow abdomen with black bands and markings
  • A few species white and black or with red markings
Illustration © Pinto & Associates Photo by Dr. Pratt, CDC


Look-alike Pests

Look-alike Pest Differences

Honey bee (Apis mellifera )

Body with branched, pale hairs; eyes hairy; first segment of hind tarsus enlarged and flattened; barbed stinger
European paper wasp (Polistes dominulus)

Abdomen coloration similar to yellowjacket; waist is very thin; nest is characteristic upside down umbrella-shape; legs trail below in flight; parts of antennae orange
European hornet (Vespa crabro)
Similar markings and colors but much larger, 3/4-1 3/8 inch long (20-35 mm)


Biology and Habits

Match the Food and Site Match the Habits and Damage
yellowjacket on orange yellowjacket nests hanging from ceiling
  • Adult collects sugary foods (nectar, honeydew, sap, ripe fruit, ice cream, sodas) or protein foods (insects & arthropods, dead animals, tuna, ham, fish, chicken, etc.) and feeds them to larvae and queen in the nest
  • Depending on species, may nest in ground (most common), in voids, or in trees or bushes
  • German yellowjacket constructs irregularly-shaped, papery comb nest almost exclusively in buildings - in wall or ceiling voids, insulation in attics, or in barns or sheds; rarely nests in ground
  • Western yellowjacket sometimes nests in buildings
  • Aerial yellowjacket nests in trees, shrubs, and on houses, sheds, and the like
  • Defends the nest site; a single yellowjacket can sting repeatedly; sensitized people can be deathly allergic to stings
  • Mature nests can contain thousands of yellowjackets
  • When void nest is stressed (German and western yellowjackets), workers can chew through plasterboard or exit light fixtures, etc. and enter living spaces
  • Aggressive, annoying outdoor pest at picnics, parks, near garbage cans, etc., in late summer and fall
  • In most areas, nests die out during winter & are not reused, but void nests may remain active later in season
  • Overwintering queens may enter living areas of buildings
Photo © iStockphoto/Sascha Burkard Photo © iStockphoto/Pekka Nikonen

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More on yellowjackets: Fall Yellowjackets and Their Control

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