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Yellow Jackets’ Color Is a Warning Signal: Stay Away!

The yellow jacket wasp is one of Maryland’s most aggressive stinging insects; they don’t need much reason to attack. Yellow jackets do have barbed stingers, but they can sting multiple times before dying.

Although there are several yellow jacket species found in Maryland, the most common is the native Eastern yellow jacket. They are usually ⅜ to ⅝ inches long, with queens about 25 percent larger than workers. They have a yellow and black striped abdomen.

People sometimes mistake yellow jackets for honey bees because their coloring is similar, but honey bees have hairy bodies and yellow jackets do not.

Danger in numbers

You may first realize that you have a yellow jacket nest on your property when you see a number of these wasps coming in and out of a certain spot. There are many places these wasps make their homes, including:

  • In the ground, often in and old rodent hole
  • In wall voids
  • On shrubs, bushes, houses and sheds
  • In sheds, old cars, or similar places
  • The nests contain papery chambers with 30 to 55 compartments where the queen lays her eggs and the larvae grow.

Yellow jackets are most active during the day, and workers are busiest during the late summer and early autumn, when they are trying to get enough food for the queens who will live through the winter. (The workers do not) They are frequent visitors to picnic sites because they like carbohydrate-rich food such as fruit and sweets and decaying protein, which is why you find them around trash cans. Be careful if you’re drinking from an open can of soda when you’re outside; there could be a yellow jacket lurking inside.

Although anyone who is stung by a yellow jacket might not agree, these wasps are considered beneficial because they do eat insects in addition to other foods.

Eliminating yellow jackets

When yellow jackets feel threatened they release a pheromone that signals other yellow jackets to attack. If a yellow jacket invades your space, don’t panic. Walk away as quietly as possible, without waving your arms or swatting at them.

It’s tough to tackle a yellow jacket nest on your own because of the high risk of being stung. This is one job that’s best left to professionals like the Brody Brothers, who will:

  • Locate the nest
  • Use the right kind of insecticides and/or baited traps to eliminate the problem
  • Dress in the appropriate gear so that they avoid getting stung