Yellow Jackets and Hornets

Yellow Jackets and Hornets are closely related within the Vespidae classification of wasps and typically function in similar ways. The hornet is known to be the larger of the two species, measuring up to 2.2 inches in length. Although colorations can appear similar, hornets normally only possess one yellow stripe across their backs against their dark brown shell. Yellow Jackets are primarily black with multiple yellow patterns. The Hornet also has a more distinctive, larger head that most other species of wasps and can help with identification between the two insects.

Both Yellow Jackets live fairly short lives ranging from six months to a year depending on their role within the society. Colonies are formed by a single female queen in order to allow a location for her eggs to hatch. This usually takes five to eight days, then another two weeks for the newborn to mature into functional adults. The first group of workers is normally female and once mature they assume all aspects of the queen except for laying eggs. This will include foraging for food, expanding the nest, and caring for the young. The queen will continue to repopulate the colony with the remaining eggs she carries, and at some point she will die and another dominant female will assume the queen's role. Some of the males will assume the task of fertilizing the queen and never leave the hive except when called on to defend their home or to eventually die. Others within the colony will focus on expanding the hive and gathering as much food as possible, primarily other insects. The Yellow Jacket will also scavenge through leftover human remains to feed the colony where the Hornet generally will not. Once the season approaches late into fall the vast majority of the hive will already be dead or struggling to nourish the queen enough so she can hibernate through winter. By the end of fall every one of these species will have perished except for the lone queen. If their efforts were sufficient the entire cycle will begin again the following spring.

Yellow Jackets and Hornets have similar type venom and neither possesses a large threat to humans from a single sting unless an allergic reaction occurs. On average, one in one thousand people will experience difficulty breathing, severe headaches, increased pulse rate, or some combination of all three. If this is the case, seek medical attention immediately. For those who do not experience a reaction, common symptoms are localized pain around the area of the sting and possible swelling/soreness over the next several hours. An ice pack should eliminate most of the discomfort almost immediately. Both species are capable of stinging multiple times and can emit a type of distress call if they feel the hive is endangered. When this happens it is likely that the entire hive will attack in unison and multiple stings can be dangerous to those even without allergies. For this reason alone, it is recommended that large infestations are best handled by a professional with the experience and resources to destroy the colony with limited risk.