Why Are Yellowjackets So Aggressive?

Medically Reviewed on 1/27/2022
Why Are Yellowjackets So Aggressive?
Yellowjackets are very aggressive and sting or bite when they are disturbed or even when they feel any threat.

Yellowjackets are a type of wasp species characterized by their yellow and black markings. They build their nests underground, but a few nests may be seen around trees or buildings. 

Yellowjackets are very aggressive and sting or bite when they are disturbed or even when they feel any threat. They attack you when you are in their vicinity even if you do not disturb them. The aggressiveness in yellow jackets increases by the end of summer (during fall).

  • The nest of yellow jackets is sensitive, so whenever they feel any vibrations, their nest may fall apart, causing them to get aggressive.
  • Because yellow jackets are very hardworking and put in a lot of effort in building their nest and seeking food, they get into defensive mode if they sense a threat.
  • Some yellow jackets guard the nest even without seeking food so that they can alert other yellow jackets in case of a threat.
  • Yellowjackets attack people who are near to the nest as a warning to leave the place.
  • Just like humans, yellow jackets do get irritated and aggressive when hungry.
  • When yellow jackets sting, they can cause more than simply excruciating agony. If a person goes into anaphylactic shock, especially if they have been stung several times, the stings could kill them.

What are yellowjackets?

Yellowjackets are social insects that are distant relatives of wasps, bees, and hornets.

Each year, thousands of Americans are victims of yellow jacket stings, and nearly 100 people die due to severe allergic reactions (anaphylactic shock) from the venom of yellow jackets.

Unlike honeybees, yellow jackets do not have barbs on their stingers. This is the reason yellow jackets do not leave stingers after they sting a person and may sting repeatedly multiple times.

  • During fall each year, the queen dies, and other female yellow jackets get fertilized. They leave the colony and take shelter until spring and emerge as new queens.
  • In the spring, they create a colony beneath the earth in abandoned rat burrows, protected hollows in trees, or behind building walls.
  • Throughout the season, young are born, and the colony can expand to hundreds or even thousands of individuals by the end of the year. Only a few fertilized females make it through the fall and winter.
  • At the end of the season, the nest is frequently abandoned.

Yellowjackets are scavengers and feed on proteins that they get from other insects. They attack and feed on caterpillars, crickets, crop pests, and flies. They scavenge proteins not just for themselves but also for the growing larvae in the nest. Some western yellow jackets scavenge on dead insects as well for nourishment.

Dry seasons make it scarce for them to find food. Although their source of food is protein, due to desperation, worker jackets feed on sugars from trashed beverage cans and fermenting fruits.


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What are the symptoms of yellowjacket stings?

Yellowjacket attacks are very common, and many people fall victim to their stings. Because they penetrate the stinger into the skin, they release venom into the person’s body. This venom is responsible for various symptoms in the body.

Research states that the venom of some species of yellow jackets has more potency to cause severe allergic reactions, and venom is noted to be stronger during late summer than in early summer.

Common symptoms seen in most people include:

  • Severe pain and burning at the site of the sting last for a few hours.
  • Itching is usually felt at the site of the sting and occurs a few hours after pain.
  • Swelling at the site of the sting appears after a few hours and may last almost a week.
  • The skin appears red due to inflammation of the skin. Redness does not mean the presence of infection. It takes up to three days for the redness to subside.
  • There is an increase in temperature at the site of the sting.

Severe life-threatening reactions (anaphylaxis) may occur in some of the affected people:

How to treat a yellowjacket sting

Yellowjackets do not leave their stinger as bees do. They inject venom while they sting your skin, which causes various symptoms. The treatment depends on the intensity of the symptoms.

  • Soap and water should be used to clean the sting site.
  • To relieve pain, apply a cold pack to the sting. Place a fabric barrier between your skin and the ice pack to protect it from the cold. Maintain the pack's motion and avoid icing the skin for more than 20 minutes.
  • Apply calamine lotion or topical antihistamine to the skin.
  • To treat minor itching and swelling, take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine). Because the medicine may cause drowsiness, avoid driving or operating heavy machinery.

In case of anaphylaxis, the treatment options include:

  • If the person has symptoms of anaphylaxis, then immediate treatment should be given otherwise the person may undergo the following:
    • Shock
    • Cardiac failure
    • Respiratory failure
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Death

If the person is at risk of anaphylaxis, the doctor may send the person to an allergist for immunotherapy treatments (also known as allergy shots). The goal of immunotherapy is to desensitize you to insect venom by injecting a little amount into your system at regular intervals.

Successful immunotherapy may aid in the prevention of anaphylaxis. However, it is possible that it will not eliminate all the allergy symptoms.

Precautions to be taken to avoid yellowjackets

  • Avoid the nest:
    • Simply avoid the area where the insects are nesting. They will not attack if they are not disturbed.
    • If the nest is discovered in the fall, it won't be long until the majority of the adults die, and the nest is abandoned. The nest will almost certainly not be used again the following year.
  • Cover all the trash:
    • Because yellow jackets are attracted to sweet drinks, overripe fruit, and waste, keep these items properly covered or out of the open where they can attract yellow jackets.
  • Use insecticides:
    • Spray a commercial product designated for wasp and hornet control on colonies that pose a threat to humans.
    • When the insects are in the nest, treat them at dusk or night. Stand 8 to 10 feet away from the nest and sprinkle down the opening until the insects emerge. Then, instead of running, walk away. Spray every evening until perfect control is established.
  • Traps:
    • Commercial traps are available to trap the insects; use them in living spaces.
  • Pest control:
    • If the wasp nest is in dangerous locations and people are at a higher risk of being affected, then exterminators may be called to remove the nest and drive the insects away.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/27/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

Avoid Painful, Often Dangerous, Encounters with Yellow Jackets: https://blog.epa.gov/2016/09/28/avoid-painful-often-dangerous-encounters-with-yellow-jackets/

Everything You Need to Know About Yellowjackets: https://www.pestworld.org/news-hub/pest-articles/everything-you-need-to-know-about-yellowjackets/

WASPS AND YELLOWJACKETS: https://www.sutter-yubamvcd.org/wasps-and-yellowjackets