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MONDAY, JULY 23, 2007

A Non-toxic Approach to Yellow Jackets

The Eastern Yellow Jacket is the best known wasp here in Virginia where we live. Yellow Jackets can be found in all of North America with the Western version being identified by the first antennal segment being yellow, rather than black in the Eastern species. They are social insects that live in nests in the ground, or at ground level in stumps and fallen logs.

Yellow jackets feed their young large numbers of insects that might otherwise damage trees or crops, so they are considered beneficial to agriculture. They chew up the insects and feed it to the larva. The insects are very important to our ecosystem and gardens since they eat garden pests and play a role in pollination while the adults feed on flower nectar.

If you find yellow jackets where people and pets won’t bother them, it’s a good idea to leave them alone. If they are in an area that must be dealt with, there are some solutions below that are less toxic to you, your pets, and the water supply.

In the Spring, a mated female (the queen) will build a new nest that is surrounded by a paper envelope underground. They use rodent burrows or other natural openings for sites. The queen begins laying eggs and daily brings food to the larvae until the first brood matures and those females serve as workers, extending the nest and tending young.


All Summer workers increase in number as the nest also increases in size. In late Summer, males develop from unfertilized eggs and then mate. By Fall there can be thousands of yellow jackets in a nest and this is generally the time of year they become a problem. The odors of meat, fish, and sweet substances are particularly attractive to the wasps. In early Fall, the yellow jackets especially prefer sweet things, as shown in the photos. These were attracted to the very overripe apples that we’d purchased from an orchard for the woodland critters in September.

Most Yellow Jackets, other than the queens, die with the first frost and the nest is abandoned and typically not used again as is the case with hornet nests. Most yellow jackets defend their nests vigorously, and being near a nest means you’re likely to get stung. The females sting repeatedly with the Eastern Yellow Jackets being the most aggressive. Those that nest above ground seem to be somewhat less touchy.

When our son, Benjamin, was about 13 years old, he was using the weed eater in the front woods to trim along the paths through the woods. We lived in Alabama at the time. He obviously got near a nest because he came running to the house yelling for help and had bees coming out of his pants and t-shirt. Besides the multitude of bites, my husband and I were slapping him all over to try to get the biting bees off of him so he could get inside.

With the large amount of stings (we later counted 41), we knew we had to get some Lobelia Essence on those bites to draw out the poisons topically and take away the pain, while we had him drinking Vitamin C Ascorbates and taking Licorice Root (a natural cortisone) to prevent allergic reactions. Yucca could also be used in place of Licorice Root.

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© 1999-2023 Donna L. Watkins

All photographs are the property of the editor, Donna L. Watkins. This article may not be used on any website. If you’d like to share this article, you can forward the link to it.