Yellowjacket Wasps are NOT Honey Bees!

Yellowjacket Wasps are NOT Honey Bees!


The North Carolina, Anson Extension has provided valuable information on how to ensure safety when dealing with yellowjacket wasps. These insects can be a real nuisance, especially during the fall season when outdoor activities like mowing or cleaning the garden are common. It is important to be able to differentiate between yellowjackets and honey bees because they have distinct characteristics and behaviors.

Distinguishing Yellowjackets from Honey Bees

Yellowjacket wasps are often mistaken for honey bees due to their similar appearance, but there are some key differences. Yellowjackets are slimmer, more boldly colored, and have less hair compared to honey bees. Additionally, while honey bees can only sting once, yellowjackets are capable of chasing trespassers and stinging repeatedly.

The Life Cycle of Yellowjackets

Yellowjackets do not overwinter like honey bees. Instead, their colonies focus on securing a healthy mated queen to hibernate. By the months of August and September, a yellowjacket colony is nearing maturity and may house several hundred to 1,000 individuals. Throughout the summer, the number of workers in the colony grows as they expand the nest, forage for food, defend the entrance, tend to the queen, and raise brood.

Seasonal Changes and Aggression

Late summer brings about changes in weather that can trigger heightened aggression in yellowjackets. The current queen lays fewer eggs, the availability of insect prey decreases, and the result is a group of hungry and defensive wasps. In spring, aggression is generally not an issue as the nest is smaller and there is an abundance of food. Ground-level yellowjacket nests face the additional risk of being preyed upon by skunks, raccoons, and bears, as their larvae and adults are a favorite snack for these animals.

Beneficial Hunters and Scavengers

While yellowjackets can be a nuisance, they also serve a beneficial role in the ecosystem. They are skilled hunters, preying on agricultural, ornamental, and turf plant pests such as caterpillars, grubs, aphids, and other insects. In addition to being hunters, yellowjackets are scavengers and are attracted to foods like meats and sweets when the number of insects diminishes.

Managing Yellowjacket Nests

Yellowjacket nests will naturally die out after the first hard frost. However, there are situations where treatment of the nests is necessary, especially if they are in close proximity to dwellings or pose a threat of anaphylaxis. According to NC State University, the best way to manage problematic ground nests is by using insecticide products labeled for wasp and hornet control.

Recommended Insecticide Products

When treating yellowjacket nests, it is important to choose insecticide products specifically designed for wasp and hornet control. Quick knock-down aerosol products containing pyrethroid insecticides as an active ingredient are effective options. These sprays are designed to be applied from a distance of 10-12 feet, allowing the foam to expand into the nest entrance. This increases direct contact with the wasps and slows down their emergence.

Targeting Ground Nests at Night

Yellowjacket nests are typically hidden, with an entrance as small as only one inch wide. They are often found in inconspicuous locations such as hedgerows. To effectively target ground nests, it is recommended to conduct treatments at night or late dusk when all the foragers have returned. It is highly advisable to wear protective clothing to minimize the risk of stings. Yellowjackets are attracted to light, so it is important to avoid holding a flashlight while applying insecticide.

Monitoring and Additional Treatment

After applying the initial treatment, it is essential to check the nest site later in the day to determine if a second application is needed. Sometimes, a slower-acting but equally effective approach involves the application of 2 teaspoons of 5% carbaryl insecticidal dust at the nest entrance, also done at night.

Avoiding Unconventional Treatments

It is important to note that using household chemicals or fuels, such as bleach, gasoline, or diesel, in an attempt to avoid toxic insecticides is not recommended. These unconventional treatments are more toxic than most labeled pesticides, and they can kill desirable plants, contaminate the environment, and pose fire or health hazards to humans. Most pesticides are specifically designed to break down relatively quickly in the environment, making them safer for families and the environment.

Professional Assistance and Conclusion

Treating nuisance yellowjacket nests can be dangerous without proper protective gear, and there is a high likelihood of being stung. Therefore, it is always advisable to consider contacting a pest control professional for assistance. If you have any questions or require further information about structural or garden pest identification or management, you can reach out to the Anson Extension horticulture agent, Aimee Colf, at or 704-694-2915.


It is important to be able to distinguish between yellowjacket wasps and honey bees to ensure safety when dealing with these insects. Understanding the life cycle and behavior of yellowjackets can help manage and prevent potential issues. When necessary, using insecticide products specifically designed for wasp and hornet control is the recommended approach. However, it is crucial to follow proper application techniques and avoid unconventional treatments that can be harmful to the environment and human health. Remember, professional assistance is always an option for dealing with troublesome yellowjacket nests.