Insect Identification
Insect Identification

Yellow Jacket - (Vespula spp.)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 2/11/2014

The justly feared Yellow Jacket is a wasp with a sting so painful that when sighted, it literally sends people briskly in the opposite direction.

Picture of Yellow Jacket

Yellow Jackets are easily distinguishable by their yellow and black coloring. They area common sight throughout all of North America, especially in the summer when food is prepared and/or eaten outdoors. These flyers are commonly found along the edges of forests and can make their hives nearer the ground than in trees like other wasps might do.

Adult Yellow Jackets will feed off of nectar while other adults pre-chew insects for easier consumption for the larvae. A pregnant female will begin nest construction in the spring, bringing about the first generation of Yellow Jackets for the year in the spring. Females from this brood will become hive workers and tend to the other young produced later. By the fall - or when cold weather begins to make its appearance - the males will die off leaving only other mated females to continue generations the following year.

Yellow Jackets, particularly the females, are extremely aggressive and will sting repeatedly so avoidance is the best policy! Unlike honeybees, their stingers are not barbed and stay attached to their abdomen despite repetitive use. Yellow Jacket venom is more potent than honey bee venom and stings are painful. Though avoidance is not always possible, do not swing at a Yellow Jacket as they can be easily provoked to attack and defend themselves or their nearby nest.

An Eastern (V. maculifrons) and Western (V. pennsylvanica) species of Yellow Jacket exist but there are few variations between them beyond color pattern.

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Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Common name: Yellow Jacket
Scientific Name: Vespula spp.

  Kingdom: Animalia
   Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
     Order: Hymenoptera
      Family: Vespidae
       Genus: Vespula
        Species: spp.

Adult Size (Length): 12mm to 16mm (0.47in to 0.63in)

Identifying Colors: yellow, black, white

Additional Descriptors: stinging, flying

North American Reach (Though Not Limited To*): Alabama; Alaska; Arizona; Arkansas; California; Colorado; Connecticut; Delaware; Florida; Georgia; Idaho; Illinois; Indiana; Iowa; Kansas; Kentucky; Louisiana; Maine; Maryland; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Mississippi; Missouri; Montana; Nebraska; Nevada; New Hampshire; New Jersey; New Mexico; New York; North Carolina; North Dakota; Ohio; Oklahoma; Oregon; Pennsylvania; Rhode Island; South Carolina; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; Vermont; Virginia; Washington; West Virginia; Wisconsin; Wyoming; Alberta; British Columbia; Manitoba; New Brunswick; Newfoundland and Labrador; Nova Scotia; Ontario; Prince Edward Island; Quebec; Saskatchewan; Mexico

* Keep in mind that insect reach is not governed by lines on a map and therefore may appear in areas/regions/states beyond those listed above.