There are several species of yellowjackets. These flying insects typically have a yellow and black head/face and patterned abdomen. Yellowjackets look very similiar to paper wasps. There are two easy ways to tell them apart. First, paper wasps have a pair of long hanging back legs while yellow jackets do not. Second, yellow jackets fly in more direct lines, what might be described as darting from place to place while paper wasps seem to float around. Yellow jackets are like fighter jets while paper wasps are more like helicopters when it comes to their flight patterns.
Yellowjackets are social insects that live in nests or colonies with up to 4,000 workers. The nests typically begin in July but are usually too small to be noticed until August or even September. Yellowjackets feed on sweets and proteins, and therefore commonly invade our outdoor events.
Yellowjackets can be found anywhere humans are found. They build their nests in voids, whether it is an old animal burrow in the ground, a wall cavity exposed from missing mortar or a gap in siding. You typically don’t see the physical nest. Rather you become aware of their presence by noticing a steady stream of yellowjackets going in and out of a hole or from a chewing sound that resembles making pop corn in a wall or ceiling.
Humans are at the same risk of allergic reactions from yellow jacket stings as they are with other bee or wasp stings. Yellowjackets and other stinging insects send over 500,000 people to the emergency room each year.