Stinging Insects

How to Get Rid of Yellow Jackets

It’s a scene off the  reel of a horror movie; it’s another sunny day in the park, where you and your family are having a picnic under the cool shade of trees.  The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, the gentle breeze is blowing away, and everything is perfect.  Suddenly, you hear a buzzing in the wind.  You turn around and expect a few flies to irritate you, and then you see a bunch of wasps coming to get you.

Yellow jackets, more commonly known as wasps, are common pests that are potentially harmful to your health, safety, and well-being.  Yellow jackets are particularly aggressive pests, and can cost you a hospital visit or a doctor’s appointment if you’re not careful.  Getting rid of yellow jackets is an important part of pest control to assure you of a safe, pest-free home.  Here are some ways to get rid of the critters.

What Are Yellow Jackets?

Yellow jackets are members of the Vespula and Dolichovespula genera, which are classifications of wasps found all over the world.  Yellow jackets are common predatory insects in North America.  Yellow jackets have distinct yellow and black markings similar to bees, and they are often mistaken for bees.  Yellow jackets, like many wasps, fly in a distinct side-to-side pattern, instead of straight away at the target.

Yellow jackets feed on sugar-rich and carbohydrate-rich food sources, although the larvae need protein to grow into full-grown insects.  Yellow jackets usually feed on tree sap, fruits, and nectar, although the insects are known to feed on human food sources.  When disturbed, or when food is scarce, yellow jackets may use their strength in numbers to enter houses.

Life Cycle of Yellow Jackets

Yellow jackets live in colonies.  The queen yellow jacket is the largest female in the colony; when fertilized, a queen yellow jacket can grow up to 19 millimeters long and lay between 10,000 to 13,000 eggs.  The maximum size of a typical yellow jacket colony can number about 5,000 worker insects.  For 18 to 20 days, the queen feeds the larvae until they grow and mature enough to be workers for the colony.

Only female yellow jackets are capable of stinging.  The stinger of a yellow jacket is lance-shaped; unlike bees, yellow jackets can sting repeatedly.  In some instances, when the barbs of the stinger get caught on the target, the stinger can pull free of the insect’s abdomen, causing it to die.  Many yellow jacket species have venomous stings, although the poison is only dangerous or lethal to people who are allergic or hypersensitive to it.

Yellow Jacket Nests

The nest of yellow jackets is made from a material made from wood fiber and the insect’s saliva, and has a paper-like texture.  A nest lasts only for about one season; the nest is started during the summer, and then dries out during the winter season.  In warmer areas, yellow jacket nests can last up to two years, and grow to the size of a basketball.

The type of nest built by a yellow jacket colony is based on its species:

  • For Vespula, the nest is built underground.
  • For Dolichovespula, the nest is built above ground.

Keep Your House Clean

The best way to prevent yellow jacket attacks is to keep your house clean.  Store food inside containers or inside the refrigerator, so that you can deny the insects of a food source.  Seal windows, garbage cans, dumpsters, and your wall sidings to prevent yellow jackets from entering your home.

Another way to reduce or discourage yellow jacket populations is to clear your home of sources of refined proteins, sugars, and carbohydrates.  It can be as simple as taking the apple pie out of the window, or keeping pet food stored inside sealed canisters or containers.  You may also need to apply sealant to cracks on your outside walls to prevent yellow jackets from making a nest.

Treat or Remove the Nest

Getting rid of a yellow jacket nest may be done by a professional pest control specialist, although it is something you can do yourself as long as you’re not hypersensitive or allergic to yellow jacket stings.  The trick is to either remove the nest, or to poison the nest to kill the yellow jackets and larva inside.  Here’s how to treat a yellow jacket nest:

  • Wear protective clothing like thick gloves, a thick sweater, and a beekeeping veil.
  • It’s best to treat or remove a yellow jacket nest while it’s still small.  A chilly night is the best time to treat or remove the nest.  Yellow jackets do not fly at all at night or in low temperatures, unless it is to protect the nest.
  • Carefully approach the nest and pour a good amount of powdered or liquid insecticide on it.  Chemical insecticides work best, although organic insecticides are best to keep the chemicals from leaching into the soil and groundwater.
  • Nests built above ground should be carefully cut away at the base with an old kitchen knife or a machete.  Make sure all the yellow jackets are dead before removing the nest.  Burn the nest to kill off any remaining eggs and larva.
  • For nests buried underground, fill the hole with gravel or dry concrete.

Traps

Aggressive yellow jackets need to be killed or neutralized before they cause damage.  Like many insects, some species of yellow jackets may have developed a resistance to insecticides.  One way that you can get rid of yellow jackets on the move is to use a fly-paper trap to catch the insects.  Hang the traps on places where yellow jacket populations are common, like the tree branch or awning nearest the nest.  You may also want to check out specially formulated wasp traps available on the market.

Preventing and Healing Stings

When you get rid of yellow jacket nests, you’re bound to be stung by at least one insect.  Depending on your sensitivity to wasp stings, you need to heal the stings and stores quickly before they start to develop into a major skin irritation.

  • Rubbing alcohol. Rub a 70% alcohol solution on the wound to soothe the irritation.
  • Calamine lotion. While the healing properties of calamine lotion have been disputed, it does help to reduce inflammation in some patients.
  • Antihistamines. Oral antihistamines can help reduce inflammation and irritation, especially if you have been stung by more than one yellow jacket.
  • Medical attention. If you experience symptoms of fever or chills after the first few stings, you need to call medical attention.  You may be well on your way to shock because you are allergic or hypersensitive to yellow jacket venom.

While yellow jackets may not be the most horror-inducing critters in the world, the sound and the fury of wasps invading your home is not exactly a very good way to spend an afternoon.  With these tips to help you get rid of yellow jackets, no horror movie situation involving insects will ever pester you again.

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About the author

Nicole Harding

2 Comments

  • This was a very helpful article. My husband wanted to pour gasoline down the hole but since it is in my garden I wanted to avoid killing my plants as well as polluting the soil.
    Thanks!

  • Gasoline down a small hole is never a good idea, it will flash and possibly even blow angry wasps every were. Charcoal lighter fluid is a reasonable solution, pour aprox. 2oz.(2 shot glasses) down the hole and light it. Do not do this if in mulch or if insect spray has been used,wait afew days as chems in spray are volitile. Always use common sense and good luck!

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