Misconceptions and Frequently Asked Questions
about Yellowjacket Wasps
- Common misconceptions
- Removing unwanted yellowjackets
- Allergies and stings
- Other wasps (links under development)
Misconceptions about yellowjackets
The answers provided here are mostly for southern California and possibly northern California. They will not pertain to many of the northern or eastern species.
Misconception: Yellowjackets are making nests under the eaves on my house
Most of those insects are not yellowjackets, those are paper wasps. Paper wasps make a nest consisting of a single comb, typically under the eave of a house or in a protected cavity like a pot or other container. With paper wasps, you can always see the comb where the young are being raised, and the wasps tending to them. Yellowjackets typically make their nests underground or in cavities, there are many levels of comb and the nest is always covered with a paper envelope. There are one or two species in the local southern California mountains that do make aerial nests that can be under the eave of a house but again, it will be covered with a paper envelope and will be much larger than a paper wasp nest.
Also, paper wasps have elongate bodies with a thin, wasp-like waist. Yellowjackets are more stocky and the waist is not apparent.
Misconception: Those aren't wasps, those are bees.
Many people think yellowjackets are not wasps because they are do not have long thin bodies. Instead they think yellowjackets are bees because of the similarity of the body form. Some people even refer to yellowjackets as "meat bees" because of the similarity which doesn't help sort out the confusion. Yellowjackets are indeed wasps. They seek out protein in the form of flesh like insects, carrion and unfortunately, our food.
How can I get rid of yellowjackets from my property?
Yellowjackets have been a pain for decades. Control methods used against yellowjackets work with varying degrees of success, however, some insecticides have been removed from sale because of high mammalian toxicity, environmental concerns and other regulatory issues. There is no silver bullet that can rid your area of yellowjackets.
Can I get rid of yellowjackets by using the traps?
Probably not. There will always be more yellowjackets being produced in the nest to replace them as you kill off the foragers. The true method of control would be to eliminate the nest.
Couldn't I get rid of the yellowjackets by finding the nest and killing it?
In theory this is the best strategy. However, yellowjackets forage for about 1 mile from their nest and therefore, if you wanted to get rid of all the yellowjackets flying around your property, you would have to locate every nest within a 1 mile radius and eliminate it. In urban areas, this would mean searching around all your neighbor's homes. In natural areas, this would mean searching every tree trunk, rodent burrow, stream bank, pile of rocks and trash heap to see if there were yellowjackets in there. This would be basically impossible.
There are either bees or yellowjackets flying in and out of the wall of my house. Does it matter which one it is?
Most definitely. If it is yellowjackets, then they have a paper nest inside that is full of larvae and wasps but not much else. If you have the nest exterminated by a professional exterminator (we don't recommend you attempting to kill off a yellowjacket nest by yourself unless you know what you are doing), then there may be a little smell of decaying insect bodies (maybe 1000 to 3000 wasps and larvae) but overall, the nest can be killed and that should be the end of it.
In contrast, if you have honey bees in the wall, the proper procedure is to have the hive exteriminated, then you have to rip out the wall exposing the honey and comb, remove it, repair the wall and then MAKE SURE YOU PLUG UP THE HOLE AFTER THE COLONY IS REMOVED SO ANOTHER BEE COLONY DOESN'T MOVE IN AGAIN. You can't just kill off a honey bee colony and then ignore it. It could easily have 100 lbs of honey in the walls. Once the bees are dead, there is no way to control the temperature inside the cavity, summer heat will melt the wax, honey will start coming out of the comb and you could have honey leaking through your walls and window sills. In addition, a dead honey bee colony with all that honey is very attractive to other animals like rats which might start working their way into the crawl space of the house. And then there is the smell of a decaying honey bee colony with 40,000 bees and another 20,000 larvae and pupae, fermenting honey, the works. And you can't just seal off the hole because the bees will live for a long time and start looking for a way out, possibly chewing holes into plasterboard and such in attempt to find an escape route.
If I am allergic to bees then will I be allergic to wasps?
In general, no. The honey bee venom protein that causes anaphylactic shock is different from the yellowjacket venom proteins causing a similar reaction. So therefore, you can be allergic to honeybees but not yellowjackets or yellowjackets but not honey bees. There are a few people who are allergic to both. They either developed hypersensitivity to both honey bee AND yellowjacket venom or they are the rare group of folks who are allergic to a minor venom component found in both insects which is used as a spreading factor to spread the venom more efficiently inside the mammalian body.