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Southern Yellowjacket (Vespula squamosa)

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

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The large, aggressive Southern Yellowjacket dominates its own territory and takes over ones it likes better, even from people.

Updated: 01/05/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Notorious for its aggressive nature and tendency to sting, Southern Yellowjackets are best given wide berth and left alone. They guard nests with ferocity. They can, and do, sting multiple times without dying. Because nests are in or near the ground, stinging incidents commonly result from unknowingly stepping on or near nests. Alarm pheromones are sent through the air and nests are emptied in response to a perceived threat outside of it. If a nest or colony is found in areas where people pass like a backyard, park, trail, or building, professional exterminators should be employed to remove them. Attempting to remove a Southern Yellowjacket nest without the proper protection and equipment could be quite painful for anyone in the vicinity.

One queen establishes a colony in the spring. She emerges from overwintering and either builds a burrow in the ground, moves into established hollows or building cracks, or she enters the nest of a weaker Yellowjacket species, killing its queen and commandeering the workers on her behalf. After feeding on insects and carrion, she lays eggs that will become workers for her. Nests are expanded by these workers using saliva and vegetation, and many combs are built into the colony in a short time. The queen focuses solely on laying eggs. Active during the summer, most Yellowjacket nests see a decline in numbers and activity by the Thanksgiving holiday when cooler weather sets in. All individuals in the nest die in winter except for the queen, who is inseminated before autumn is over in preparation for the next year. Some warmer areas of Florida see activity year round.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Insect stinger icon
Striped or banded insect icon

Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Hymenoptera
        Family: Vespidae
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          Genus: Vespula
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            Species: squamosa

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Vespula squamosa
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 9mm to 16mm (0.35" to 0.62")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: yellow; black
Descriptors: banded; striped; aggressive; stinging; dangerous; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 9mm (0.4in) and 16mm (0.6in)
Lo: 9mm
Md: 12.5mm
Hi: 16mm

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 Southern 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 Southern Yellowjacket. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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