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Eastern Yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Eastern Yellowjacket

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Eastern Yellowjackets are members of an aggressive hornet family with painful stings and are best given wide berth if spotted.

Updated: 09/25/2020; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Eastern Yellowjackets make their nests in the ground. The opening looks like a burrow to a small rodent den and careless footsteps can result in a painful introduction to its residents. Just approaching the entrance can elicit a stinging attack from its ultra-defensive inhabitants. They persist in defending the nest until the threat (human or animal) has left the area. Eastern Yellowjackets have stingers loaded with venom and will continue to sting repeatedly. They do not lost their stinger and die like honeybees. Avoiding nests by mindfully walking through woodlands or sticking to trails is a good way to prevent an encounter with them.

If a nest is near a home, it is likely an Eastern Yellowjacket will wander near sweet beverages and food. They have been known to land on cans of juice or soda/pop and walk inside them to drink unbeknownst to the owner. People have been stung on the lip by them after taking a sip and startling the insect inside. Do not physically engage with an Eastern Yellowjacket as it can send an alarm pheromone through the air that signals other Eastern Yellowjackets to join it. Swatting at them further agitates them, so walking away (or running if needed) is advised. Professional exterminators can help safely remove a nest in a backyard. Insecticides designed just for them may also be successful, but can be risky to use if they require close proximity for proper application. Always follow the label's instructions and use caution.

Workers, males, and queens of this species have subtle differences in appearance. Males lack the black spots on the abdomen and have more of a yellow/black banded appearance. Queens are mostly yellow and have small black spots that line the sides of the abdomen. A black diamond shape near the 'waist' is visible. Usually, only queens survive the winter, though there have been cases where others survive the season. A queen holds fertilized eggs inside until spring when she forms a small nest and lays them. The queen feeds the first larvae chewed up bits of insects and caterpillars that she catches until these larvae become adults. These new adults then care for any subsequent eggs and construct more of the nest so the queen can focus solely on laying more eggs and building up colony numbers. Adults drink nectar (and sweet beverages) and attack insects to use as food for their young.

General Characteristics
Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Striped or banded insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy
Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Hemiptera
        Family: Vespidae
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          Genus: Vespula
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            Species: maculifrons
Identifying Information
Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Vespula maculifrons
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 8mm to 18mm (0.31" to 0.70")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: black, yellow
Descriptors: flying, banded,
Relative Size Comparison
Typical Size Between 8mm (0.3in) and 18mm (0.7in)
Lo: 8mm
Md: 13mm
Hi: 18mm
Territorial Map*
U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Territory map graphic of the country of Mexico
Contiguous United States shape map layer graphic
Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Eastern Yellowjacket may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Eastern Yellowjacket. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.

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