Image Credit: the Center for Disease Control website (public domain)
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.
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.
Scientific Name: Vespula spp.
Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 12mm to 16mm (0.47in to 0.62in)
Note: An insect's reach is not limited by lines drawn on a map and therefore species may appear in areas, regions and/or states beyond those listed above as they are driven by environmental factors (such as climate change), available food supplies and mating patterns. Grayed-out selections indicate that the subject in question has not been reported in that particular territory. U.S. states and Canadian provinces / territories are clickable to their respective bug listings.
Ant, Bee, and Wasp Anatomy
Antennae: Ants and Bees both have a pair of antennae on the head that senses their surroundings.
Head: The head contains the insect's compound eyes, antennae, and mandibles.
Thorax: Contains various vital parts such as the aorta and nervous system.
Abdomen: Contains various organs including the heart, gut, venom glands, and anus.
Legs: Ants and Bees have three pairs of legs attached to the thorax (center-body section).
NOTE: Ants, Bees and Wasps are part of the Hymenoptera order because they share many similarities.