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Yellow Jacket (Vespula spp.)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Yellow Jacket

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Image Credit: Tallee W.U. from Anchorage, AK
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The justly feared Yellow Jacket is a wasp with a sting so painful that when sighted, it literally sends people in the opposite direction.

Updated: 01/06/2022; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
Like many wasps, Yellow Jackets are yellow and black. An Eastern (V. maculifrons) and Western (V. pennsylvanica) species of Yellow Jacket exist but there are few variations between them beyond color pattern. Recognizing one quickly will reduce unwanted contact. They are a common sight throughout all of North America, especially in the summer where food is prepared and eaten outdoors. Yellow Jackets, particularly the females, are extremely aggressive and territorial. A single Yellow Jacket stings repeatedly so avoidance is the best policy. Its venom is more potent than honey bee venom and stings are very painful. If avoidance is not possible, refraining from swatting and swinging at a Yellow Jacket is recommended. This wasp is easily provoked to attack and defend itself and a nearby nest.

Yellow Jackets wasps are commonly found along the edges of forests and can make their hives closer to the ground than in the tree canopy like other wasps. Adult Yellow Jackets feed off of nectar while other adults pre-chew insects for easier consumption for wasp larvae. A pregnant female begins nest construction in the spring, bringing about the first generation of Yellow Jackets that year later in the spring. Females from this brood become hive workers and tend to the other young produced later. By autumn, or when cold weather begins, the males die off leaving only mated females to continue generations the following year.©InsectIdentification.org

Known Diet of the Yellow-Jacket

nectar (adults); insects (larva)
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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
Flying insect icon
Insect stinger 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: spp.

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Vespula spp.
Category: Bee, Ant, Wasp and Similar
Size (Adult; Length): 12mm to 16mm (0.47" to 0.62")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: yellow; black; white
Descriptors: stinging; flying

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 12mm (0.5in) and 16mm (0.6in)
Lo: 12mm
Md: 14mm
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 Yellow Jacket 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 Yellow Jacket. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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