Yellow jackets are one of the most common picnic pests, and you can’t get them to stop once they catch the scent of sugary drinks or grilled meats. They can easily appear out of nowhere, quickly increasing in number. They will also travel 1,000 feet from their nests on their neverending quest for free food. This makes them incredibly hard to control.
- Characteristics: ⅜ to ⅝ inches long, but queens can be up to ¾ inches long. They are yellow and black with black antennae and smooth bodies.
- Nests: They build layers of comb in various areas, including the ground, under the eaves, in the attic, and inside hollow trees.
- Risk of Sting: Aggressive yellow jackets can sting repeatedly.
Yellow Jackets: Habitat and Nests
While their nests are primarily built on the ground, you may find them in concealed places, such as hollowed-out trees, in wall voids, under eaves, and in attics.
Yellow jackets are social insects, living in colonies made up of a queen, males, and sterile female workers. Their vast colonies contain upwards of 1,000 workers, who will aggressively protect their nests. This results in them attacking anything they perceive to be a threat.
Yellow Jackets: Behaviors and Damage
While you may see yellow jackets on your property, it doesn’t automatically mean you have a nest. It does mean there is one nearby, and something on your property has gotten their attention. Regardless of what the attractant is, the yellow jackets are foraging or scavenging.
In the spring, they seek out protein sources for the developing larvae. These food sources are mostly insects. When fall comes around, the larvae are adults, and food sources begin to deplete. At this point, the yellow jackets switch to scavenger mode, where they seek out sugary substances as a food source. If you see them during this time of year, you will need to be extra cautious as they are especially aggressive. Their large numbers and ability to sting repeatedly make these nests particularly dangerous to treat and remove.
Prevention and Control
While you can avoid going outside for the duration of yellow jacket season, you’ll miss all of late summer and early fall. Instead, you can take several steps to reduce their impact on your outdoor space. Proactive measures are best in the spring before colonies are established, and preventative measures are better in the summer and fall after the colonies are fully established.
- Seal any holes, cracks, or crevices around the exterior of any buildings on your property
- Repair or replace all damaged screens
- Remove all abandoned nests – be sure they are abandoned before you do this
- Fill in abandoned rodent holes on the yard
- Fill in tree hollows whenever possible
- Don’t keep pet food outside
- Clean up any rotting fruit around trees
- Skip wearing perfumes
- Set up yellow jacket traps a distance from your outdoor spaces
Once late fall arrives, the yellow jacket colonies will have stopped growing. With the frigid winter temperatures of Illinois, the colonies will die off. However, if there are any inside in a comfortable setting, they could survive for multiple seasons.
While you can take proactive and preventative measures to reduce the number of yellow jackets on your property, this is not the solution to eliminating the colony. You will still need to call a professional to fully prevent yellow jackets building nests.