Tom Turpin
Professor of
Purdue University







The Yellow Jackets are Coming

Fall – the harvest season. That time of the year when pumpkin lie in golden contrast to the fading green vines of their nurturing plants. When sun-ripened apples are turned into sweet must under the unrelentless crunch of a cider mill. When the quiet serenity of a backwoods picnic or suburban cookout is suddenly broken with a blood – curdling scream – yellow jackets!!

Yes, folks everywhere slightly modify Paul Revere's now-famous warning of Revolutionary War times. “The yellow jackets are coming, the yellow jackets are coming” is an oft-repeated warning of close encounters of the insect kind.

Yellow jackets are common, ground-nesting, social wasps. In the spring, a mated female emerges from her overwintering site and establishes an underground nest in an abandoned rodent burrow. There she begins the task of rearing young wasps. Early growth of the colony is slow, because the queen does all of the work. However, by midsummer other wasps have been produced. These workers take over the duties of food finding, larval care and defense of the nest. By late fall, some yellow jacket nests may contain as many as 3,000 workers.

Immature yellow jackets are fed meat, mostly in the form of arthropods captured by workers. In the fall, when prey species become scarce, the yellow jackets become scavengers. They can be found around garbage cans and are frequent visitors to picnics. That, of course, causes great concern to the humans, who are reluctant to share the feast with six-legged visitors, especially those armed with a sting.

In general, yellow jackets do not sting except in defense of their nest or when physically abused. Therefore, remaining calm is the best policy when faced with a yellow jacket intent on tearing meat form your bologna sandwich or skating on the ice cube in your cola. Aggressive behavior normally prompts a like response on the part of the yellow jacket, and in most cases, the insect will be victorious. If the yellow jacket nests in lawns are a continual problem, they can normally be eliminated by finding the hole to the nest and treating with an insecticide during the night. However, such activities can be hazardous to your health, because yellow jackets will not stand idly while their home is being destroyed.

In most instances, folk are well-advertised to leave the nests alone. Yellow jackets are beneficial because of the insects they destroy, and winter will solve the problem for another year. Besides, who wants to be guilty of stirring up a hornet's nest?


Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Carol McGrew