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There is a difference between a pest and a threat. A pest is an unwanted bug or animal that has a negative effect on your home or property. Raccoons are pests and cause a mess. Mice can be gross and theoretically dangerous, but very few people get sick because of mice. Wasps on the other hand, are terrifying, and for a good reason! They are territorial, aggressive, organized, can sting multiple times, and they use pheromones to quickly call for back up when threatened. Furthermore, it seems that they almost know exactly when to show up and ruin your outdoor BBQ.

Wasps in general can be troublesome pests, but the Eastern yellowjacket (Vespula maculifrons) is particularly tough to deal with. Hymenoptera (the third largest order of insects, a group that includes wasps, bees, ants and sawflies) evolved during the Triassic period which occurred approximately 200-250 million years ago. Over this time, wasps have continued to evolve and develop refine their highly sensitive senses and habits that has enabled them to survive for millions of years. In modern times, human development and urban growth has provided the ultimate environment for yellow jackets to thrive.


Yellowjackets are often wrongly called bees. Given the similarities of the black and yellow bans of colour, the stingers and other common traits, it’s easy to see why. However, wasps such as yellowjackets are very different from bees both in terms of appearance and behavior. While yellowjackets do look very similar to bees at a distance, up close you may notice they have a distinctly thin abdomen separating the body and tail portions. Unlike bees, they do not have small hairs on their legs for carrying pollen (or on their body) and are much more aggressive in nature. Yellowjackets are typically 10mm -12 mm long, although the queens are usually 20 mm! You may also notice a very distinctive ‘side to side’ flight pattern they follow just before landing.


It’s very important to understand why wasps and bees are so different in behavior. While both bees and wasps will build nests to serve their queen and colony, wasps focus on pollen and honey while wasps hunt and forage for meat and fruit. Wasps like yellowjackets have female workers that assume the responsibility of taking care of ‘growth’ of the colony. That means building and defending the nest, but more importantly, hunting for protein (meat) and sugar (fruit) to feed the young. This is why yellowjackets are highly attracted to your summer BBQs. Like humans, the smell of cooked meat is very noticeable and very exciting. Throw some sugary BBQ sauce into the mix, and the scent is sure to attract any wasp in the area.

Wasps are extremely social, as they form intricate hives and maintain a complex social structure. The swarm mentality means they will work together to defend their home, with female workers willing to risk their lives in order to protect the queen. Wasps stingers are not barbed, meaning the stinger doesn’t rip off the body when they sting an attacker. That’s why honey bees die once they sting a predator, an evolutionary defense mechanism only used in life or death situations. Wasps on the other hand, have lance-like stingers, meaning they can sting a predator several times. This ability also accounts for their aggressive behavior and willingness to attack, making them very difficult pests to deal with, especially when agitated.


Believe it or not, but yellowjackets have a very similar diet to us! It’s not a coincidence they show up at BBQs all the time. Larvae need protein derived from insects and animals, so workers hunt from huge range of sources to feed their young, making them deadly hunters of many other pest insects. They are considered pest control experts in the agricultural world! Complex and simple sugars are also a primary source of food for yellowjackets, and highly concentrated sources of sugar (soda drinks or beer) are especially attractive. It’s likely that a yellowjacket has ended up in your soda or beer can at some point!


A queen emerges from the ground and starts her nest in early spring. After finding a suitable location, she builds a small paper nest and lays the eggs. Once workers are born (female workers wasps) they assume the responsibility of building the nest, defending the colony and gathering food, usually during the height of summer. Once this happens, she focuses her energy on laying eggs and growing the colony.

By late summer the workers will begin to search extra hard for new food sources. This is when the summer foraging begins and they peak as pests. Scavenging desperately for food sources like garbage cans, picnic spots or your backyard, they search relentless for food. Once a yellowjacket finds a food source, they quickly alert others with pheromones and will continually visit the same spot in search of food, even if the source has been removed.


Yellowjacket nest can grow from the size of golfball in early summer with a few dozen inhabitants to the size of a football by late summer with hundreds or thousands in the colony. Large wasp nests are very difficult to deal with, and should be left for a professional wasp exterminator. Often wasp nests can be underground, a situation where finding the location of the source of wasps can be very difficult. If you see you have a wasp nest, you know you have a problem!


Ever wonder why yellowjackets seem more common in the summer? Think about it. It’s a beautiful summer afternoon enjoying your favourite beverage, perhaps you’re by a lake or playing softball with friends. Think about the one pest you don’t want showing up. It’s not ants, it’s a wasp. Because of their lifestyle and dietary habits, wasp problems peak in mid to late summer. Don’t let yellowjackets ruin your summer fun. Call the wasp nest removal experts you can trust to get the job done right. We’re always ready to help!

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